Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Passing of the Illusion of Conscious Capitalism? The Coop as Opiate of the Bourgeoisie

Recently I read an interesting article in the Guardian which argued that the economic troubles of Whole Foods Market was yet another nail in the coffin of the notion of conscious or conscience capitalism, the notion that capitalism can be tamed and can even be made humane. This article, of course, has not gone without challenge. A commentator in a publication I had never heard of NewCo Shift argued that the discontents of Whole Food actually proved the opposite, namely that conscious capitalism was alive and well and that Whole Foods had played a major and important role in the expansion of conscience capitalism.

Frankly, I don't see much in the way of conscious or conscience capitalism out there. Sure there is Mondragon. But Mondragon survives and thrives by playing the neoliberal game if only in part. Sure there are so-called cooperatives out there. But the term "cooperative" these days is a misnomer since most "cooperatives" these days are structured and run like the neoliberal corporations they mimic.

Let's take the Honest Weight Food Cooperative, aka, Honest Weight Food Corporation of Albany, New York, as an example of conscious or conscience capitalism. Here is what that passes for "conscience" capitalism these days:
1. The Corp doesn't pay workers a living wage.
2. The Corp doesn't provide all of its workers with health care and a pension.
3. The Corp's elite are characterised by a phobia about floor staff that rivals that of the Koch's and their KochSucker politician flunkies.
4. The Corp pays administrative armchair bureaucrats at the highest levels way too much, particularly relative to its floor staff. It justifies this by quoting that Capitalist maxim: if we don't we won't get the best and the brightest.
5. The Corp sells items made in that human rights and worker friendly nation of China.
6. The Corp sells junk food with little to no nutritional value.
7. The Corp sells capitalist snake oil in its "Wellness Department".
8. The Corp does business with the "whole foods" distributer version of Gilded Age Standard Oil.
9. The Corp does business with Paylocity and JPMorgan Chase Bank, that exemplar of "conscious capitalist" banking.
10. The Corp is run by devotees or groupies of a ludicrous and ahistorical ideology, neoliberalism. The Corp justifies all this with the same failed mantra other neo-liberals justify what they do: it is market forces man. All hail the power of the market's name.
11. The Corp sells fruit and vegetables from Chile and Argentina and from Dole and Del Monte, two huge corporations whose tactics across time and space have been questionable to say the least.
12. Only a fraction of the member workers actually vote regularly at membership meetings.

If all this is what is meant by conscious or conscience capitalism don't you know that you can count me out. Such an animal, conscious or conscience capitalist delusion aside, mirrors the neoliberal world that is its broader context. It will never and can never change bah humbug or kindler and gentler neoliberal capitalism to more humane and humaniatian forms. As a mirror of neoliberalism the coop movement as it has "evolved" is part of the problem not the solution to the problem of inhumane greed ridden narcissistic up yours capitalism.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

An American Right Wing Bestiary

Antilects: those made moronic by anti-intellectual flats demagogues.

BahHumbugers, bahs: Republican heirs of Ebenezer Scrooge before he saw the light who get all orgasmic about tax breaks for the wealthy and cuts in welfare for the needy poor.

Bastiloids: right wingers who believe that the masses should eat straw.

Becrats: those who work in mass bureaucracies, the organisational form that dominated modernity and, at least for the moment, dominates postmodernity. Modern bureaucracies, as Weber noted, dominate the economic, political, and cultural domains of the modern world because they are or the masses believe they are, efficient, effective, and based on merit. In reality, as later social scientists have noted, bureaucracies not only have formal rules but also informal rules. Bureaucracies, as Weber and Michels noted, are inherently hierarchical, inegalitarian, and inconsistent with real democracy.

Biff: a right wing bully boy with anti-intellectual tendencies.

Birchbarkers: devotees of the now widespread John Birch Society brand of small government and anti-whoever happens to be the "enemy" flavour of the month "Americanism".

Brownbacks: flats who think, despite evidence to the contrary, that cutting taxes on the wealthy, cutting corporate taxes, and cutting welfare and education, will lead to economic recovery and growth.

Bucks: William F. Buckley style right wingers. As Gore Vidal showed in 1968 beneath the Bucklerian intellectual and Downton Abbey anglophilic exterior often lurks a narrow minded ethnocent.

CakeHoles: those who eat up right wing smak as though it was desert.

CareCaps: those who genuinely believe or who manipulate those who genuinely believe through branding that there is a form of mass capitalism that is genuinely humane and democratic. There isn't, of course. Many contemporary "coops" are examples of the fiction or the delusion that caring mass capitalism exists. Carecaps are a latter day version of welfare capitalists.

Corpkakes: bureaucrats who work in that most dominant economic institution in the modern and postmodern worlds, the corporation. It is, of course, to corporations that most politicians in the modern and postmodern world cowtow to and give obeisance to. Those who control corporations are members of the modern and postmodern aristocratic feudal estate.

Covfefer: 1. a right winger who makes a mistake and refuses to fess up to it making his predicament, in the process, even worse than it would have been if he or she had just fessed up to the mistake in the first place. 2. someone who has an ideological driven lack of comprehension skills.

Dedheads: Neoliberals of the Democratic Party variety.

Dims: Democrats.

Draks: capitalists who figuratively drink the blood of those they exploit. Exploitation, of course, is the raison d'etre of mass capitalism. It is at the heart of the constructed being (ontology) of mass capitalists.

Droogies: right wing ethnocent thugs.

Drumpfs: right wingers who can just barely put together two coherent Twitter sentences in a row.

Duals: those who, as a result of cultural constructions, think in either/or, dualistic, or binary ways. Right wingers, in particular, are prone to this kind of thinking.

DuckandCovers: flats who believe it is possible to win a nuclear war.

Eskies: right wing Christians who think the world is going to end. Eskies have been waiting for the second coming for a couple of thousand years but that hasn't deterred them from predicting that it will happen soon every ten years of so.

Ethnocents: those afflicted with a cultural disorder and who believe that their group (class group, status group, clique, race, ethnicity, tribe, clan) is god's or nature's gift to the universe. Ethnocentrism is a type of smak common among many right wing groups. Ethnocents generally think in either/or, binary, or dualistic ways.

Excepts: those who think, as a result of a cultural disorder, that they or their group, however it is defined, are god's or nature's chosen people or group and that nobody else or nothing else is like them. Excepts, of course, are drugged up on smak. In reality humans are humans everywhere and in every time and in every place because it is the powerful, who, thanks to the rise of agriculture, modernity, and postmodernity, who have constructed economic, political, and cultural realities for the rest of us.

FetishFreaks: Humans are the ultimate fetishisers. In fact, they are the only known species in the animal world that engages in fetishisation. So what is fetishisation? Fetishisation is making the particular, the historical, universal or transcendental. There are several types of FetishFreaks. There are FetishFreaks who fetishise their own language. There are FetishFreaks who fetishise a particular style of writing. There are FetishFreaks who universalise their own Victorian (mis)understanding of a stone age meaning system or religion. There are FetishFreaks who universalise Victorian notions of the family, sexuality, gender, and childhood. There are FetishFreaks who transcendentalise a particular economic system, modern mass capitalism.

Flats: Those afflicted with a cultural disorder who deny realities like climate change and evolution. Flatism is a form of anti-intellectual, because it rejects reality, intellectual, because it is a form of logic, smak.

Fuks: Those afflicted with a cultural disorder who think that the government has no right to own land. This variety of smak, of course, is simply ideological cover for crass human greed and the need for power.

Goaters: those afflicted with the cultural disorder of blaming everyone but themselves for their own problems. Generally scapegoaters blame the wrong people or forces for their problems. Goating is a type of smak.

Gobshites: those who spout smak.

Groupies: devotees of right wing gobshites such as Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, and Glenn Beck.

Headdeads: anti-Semites.

homophobsters: those who fear anything other than a Father Knows Best version of gender.

Hoosiers: poor White trash from Kentucky and Tennessee who couldn't and can't compete with slave labour.

KochSuckers, Kokes: devotees of the Koch Brothers and their libertarian ideology. Kochism is a variety of smak.

Krakbabies: groupies of Ayn Rand.

Krakheads: devotees of Randianism of whatever sectarian variety. Krakheadism is a variety of smak.

Krochs: those who knowingly spout smak for manipulative purposes but who don't believe the shite that comes out of their gobs

LiBetards: Libertarians who don't realise something Max Weber recognised a hundred or so years ago, namely, that mass bureaucracies dominate the modern world. General Electric is a bureaucracy. Ohio University is a bureaucracy. The US government is a bureaucracy. Honest Weight Food "Cooperative" is a bureaucracy. The Methodist Church is a bureaucracy. The Republican Party is a bureaucracy.

Libs: devotees of an ideology that arose during the Renaissance in city-states like Florence and during the Enlightenment in geographies including Scotland, England, and France. Libs come in various stripes though those liberals who call themselves conservatives these days have either forgotten this or don't want to be reminded of this. There are nationalist libs. There are bah humbug libs. There are compassionate libs. There are social insurance or progressive libs. There are libertarian libs. There are Habermasian can't we just talk to each other civilly libs.

Menteeles: those, secular and religious, who, thanks to a cultural disorder, think in literal, selectively literal that is, misognyst, nationalist, and ethnocentric ways.

Messiahnists: those dudes and dudettes afflicted with the cultural disorder of believing that they are on a mission to save their universe, however they define it, from evil blue meanies.

Misogies: dudes and dudettes who think that males are god's or nature's gift to the world. Misogyny is a form of smak.

Mopeds: young sophomoric right wingers of all varieties with a case of arrested development.

Nazoids: White supremacists. Such racism, of course, is a form of culturally constructed smak. Synonyms: Skinheads, OyGoys.

NeoDicks: the new Republican Party that arose in the wake of the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and desegragation. Neodicks are the contemporary heirs of the Dixiecrats, the Southern wing of the Democratic Party.

Noids: those with a cultural disorder and who believe that someone, for example, "foreigners", some "ethnic" group, some "racial" group, "liberals", "communists", "anarchists", another "nation", "atheists", or "staff" at a local faux cooperative, are dangerous and out to get them.

Nouveaus: those vulgar elites who are part of the 1%. Nouveaus are known for their conspicuous consumption of expensive things they know very little about. They buy Picassos not for arts sake but because they are expensive. They live in places that, for them, mimic the palaces of the Ancien Régime or the great English manor houses. In reality the domiciles of the nouveau rich and famous are vulgar simulations of Ancien Régime palaces and English manor houses. Donald Trump and his New York City Trump Tower are exemplary of nouveau vulgar conspicuous consumption.

Olies: those who rule the United States and much of the rest of the world. The 1%.

PiedPipes: demagogues.

Ponces: those mass capitalists who inheret their wealth and who live off their inheritances. Many confuse this with working for a living. Ponces are a variety of whores.

Poshies: the old blue blood economic elite who are part of the 1%

Pussy Grabbers: right wing misogies like Bill O'Reilly, Roger Ailes, and Donald Trump.

Putinistas: right wingers who go all orgasmic over and want their leader to emulate tsars like Vladimir Putin.

Qballs: the science fiction and fantasy right.

Racists: those filled to the brim with that variety of ethocentrism which maintains that one "race" is better than other "races". Such fictions are common amongst right wingers and particularly those of the Republikrat and Nazoid persuasion. Note the binary thinking here.

Reptards: Republicans.

Retreads: the alt right. The alt right thinks it is something new but in reality it is just another iteration of the old Christian anti-Semitic and anti-leftie right, Buckley style fascism, and red faced libertarianism.

Sheep: those addicted to smak.

Skitzoiddroids: Right wingers who whinge and whine about liberal and left wing whinging and whining while doing nothing but whinging and whining themselves. A form of political and ideological correctness. Synonym: hypocrites.

Slaggs: Right wing libertarians.

Slots: casino capitalists.

Sluts: devotees or groupies of the god Mammon.

Smak: the hallucinatory opiate of the right wing masses spread by demagogues of the right wing variety.

Smakalists: right wing media workers like those connected to the Daily Mail, the Sun, and Fox News who purvey smak. The smak that smakalists purvey is often meant to manipulate the already believing moronic red faced masses.

Smakheads: Neoliberals of the Bah Humbug Republican variety.

SoDars: those who believe a form of ethnocentrism that maintains that rich people are god's or nature's gift to the universe. Like the notion that monarchs were made monarchs by god, Social Darwinism, which rationalises and justifies rule by the rich, is a form of smak.

Sweeneys: right wing family values demagogues who get caught in compromising positions with someone other than their wives or husbands.

Theologs: economists drugged up on smak who justify, rationalise, and fetishise, through their apologetics and polemics, market based and libertarian economic theories. Dogmatism is a type of smak.

Utopes: purveyors of the notion that mass capitalism and its mass global markets will bring heaven on earth. That which utopianists purvey, utopianism, is a variety of smak. Synonyms: Fantasists, Fabulists.

Whores: those vampyre capitalists who make money off of other peoples money. Many confuse this with working for a living.

Xenos: those drugged up on smak and as a result believe that "foreigners", however they are defined, are threats to their very existence.

Xhuks (pronounced chucks with a hard ch): White evangelical Christian right wingers who worship the false idol of a whitewashed United States of America.

Zionators: Christians who support the contemporary state of Israel because they believe the Temple in Jerusalem must be rebuilt before Jesus comes again. For them the only good post apocalyptic Jew is a converted Jew or a dead Jew.

Zombies, zombs: those uncritical devotees of right wing smak.

Friday, May 12, 2017

You Are Now Entering the No Bullshit Zone: My Letter of Application to Teach College History

Dear Search Committee,

In this letter of application for the position of teacher of History at your university I have decided to be brutally honest instead of playing that nice little etiquette game we usually play when one applies for an academic position and when one considers those who apply for an academic position.

I have found during my years of teaching History and Sociology that it is more difficult to teach general education classes in History than to teach general education courses in Sociology for a variety of different reasons. Many students, for example, find History boring for understandable reasons given how History is taught in secondary schools and in many colleges in the US. Many students rightly, in my opinion, find memorising names and dates with little in the way of broader theoretical context and discussion, history as trivial pursuit in other words, as irrelevant to their lives and their future lives as they see them.

I share these student concerns about the relevance of the academic discipline of History to them and have other concerns about the point of studying History as it is practised in the ivy walls of the academy. First, I think that academic History is far too often boosterist in form. I think, in other words, that History is far too often the academic version of vanity motorcar plates or citizens of a particular community trying to sell the supposed virtues of their particular town to tourists or to those who might move to it. Mormons, for instance, tend to write Mormon History. Mennonites largely write Anabaptist History. Jews by and large write Jewish History. Those who romanticise the working class tend to write working class history. As Max Weber realised long ago, it is questionable whether anyone can write dispassionately about someone or something they value. And the truth about History is that those who write History too often value that which they are studying and writing about and celebrate it as one more step in the progressive march of time.

Second, I have a problem with the notion common among many Historians that anything and everything, regardless of significance, is worthy of analysis even if it has been done before. It is this, in my opinion, which makes academic History so amenable to and vulnerable to the vanity analysis, to history for the sake of ethnic, religious, national, or cultural pride, noted above. One can, as Weber does, of course, raise the question of whether all intellectual and academic analysis is in some way, shape, or form grounded in the values of the person doing the analysis, and I think it is. There is, however, a world of difference between a vanity analysis that is significant, a recent study which concluded that women in 19th century Albany, New York were engaged in business in numbers heretofore not understood, for instance, and a vanity analysis that is not significant, a study which concluded that Jews in World War II Cairo divorced, for example. It is the degree of significance that makes the former important, important because it turns upside down the common academic historical tale of a lack of businesswomen in 19th century America and the latter study which doesn't tell us anything we don't already know.

Third I don’t think that History is exceptional or unique. History is really no different from many of those other academic “disciplines” that arose in the modern world of mass consumer capitalism, mass nation states, mass centralised bureaucracies with their large numbers of mass professionals, and mass culture. Historians interpret, though they don’t necessarily foreground this, primary source materials through the same economic, political, cultural, geographic, and demographic frames that arose in the 19th and 20th centuries and which are today commonly used, if in a much more reflexive fashion, by Sociologists, Anthropologists, and many in the Humanities to make sense of human life, human society, and human culture.

Like any culture academic History has its own sacred symbols, namely its archival research, and its devotion to totalism and wholism, the notion that it is useful to research and write about every aspect of every local history even if it has been done before, the endless papers and books written over and over again on labour movements, specific ethnic groups, and specific religious groups or denominations, for example. This totalism as practised by Historians, is, by the way, hardly unique. American Anthropology with its quadrifurcation into Biological Anthropology, Social Anthropology, Linguistics, and Archaeology, is a product of the same social theoretical mania that began in the 19th century for a complete accounting of every aspect of human life. Like all cultures academic History has its own sacred practises or rites of passage, archival research, through which all of its postulants have to pass before they can earn a postgraduate degree, and a narrative writing style marked by the, some might say, excessive use of examples. And like all bureaucracies academic History has attempted, with some success, to mark off or set boundary markers around knowledges that they, or so they tell themselves and try to get others to believe, and only they, can, using their sacred symbols, analyse and interpret authoritatively and accurately. When viewed dispassionately, however, History’s emphasis on primary source material is no different than Ethnography’s emphasis on specific societies and cultures, its primary source material, Physics’ emphasis on the stuff of the universe, its primary source material, or Biology’s emphasis on species, its primary source material. Academic History thus, unlike Anthropology with its study of human evolution, its study of the remains of human evolution and human life, and its study of dynamic human society and culture via ethnography and ethnology or Sociology, with its quantitative and qualitative analysis and its theoretically sophisticated study of human society and culture, does not and cannot have anything unique about it.

Because academic History is not unique, a compelling case can be made that History is not and should not have ever been an academic discipline. History in its non-academic sense, history as looking critically at the past and its artifacts, should, in my opinion, be a way of thinking about and a method for approaching everything from particle physics to the rise of nanoscience, and from film to television. History thus has no specific methodology or realm of knowledge. History, in this sense, is a methodology. History is the long-standing notion that, that what came before may have an impact on what happened afterwards. History is, in other words, a notion of cause and effect.

It are these two fictions—that History is distinctive and that vanity History is worthy History—that have made me particularly skeptical of the notion that academic History is a distinctive discipline and skeptical of so much of the History undertaken and produced in name of academic History. And it is these two fictions that have led me to conclude that History is a truly dismal humanity and social science.

I want to end this letter of application by circling back to the question of why you should hire me for the academic History position for which I am applying? You can, of course, consider the usual suspects. I have a PhD. In History, specifically American History, and have taught American, Comparative, World, Western, and European Histories. Or you can, more importantly in my opinion, consider hiring me because I am not your typical academic Historian. You can consider hiring me because I will bring a Sociologist’s mentality, a Sociologist’s emphasis on theory, an Ethnographers’ emphasis on comparative compare and contrast analysis, to History and that, I think, at least potentially, makes for a far more interesting and generalisable History than is often taught in Introductory American History classes. You should hire me because I want to try an experiment. I want to teach introductory American history from a sociological, cultural anthropological, and social theoretical point of view. You should consider hiring me because I want to place American History in the context of World History with its traditional, modern, and postmodern states history, because I want to place American History in the context of Western History, because I want to place American History in the context of Western ethnocentrism, because I want to place American History in the context of Western identity forms and structures, because I want to place American History in the context of Western culture, because I want to place American History in the context of the Western Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment, because I want to place American History in the context of Western economic ideologies, because I want to place American History in the context of Western religion, because I want to place American History in the context of Western imperialism, because I want to place American History in the context of other Western and more specifically English settler societies, and because I want to make American History relevant to the lives of students I teach.

Yours sincerely,
Dr. Ronald Helfrich Jnr.

Friday, May 5, 2017

You are Now Entering the No Bullshit Zone: My "Philosophy" of "Education"

Imagine that you are a graduate student or a graduate professor at one of America's leading research universities, at one of those universities that belong to the Association of American Universities. Imagine that you are taking a seminar on the production of bullshit at one of those prestigious universities. Imagine that you were given an assignment to write a seminar paper on who or what produces the most bullshit per square inch or per capita in the modern and postmodern world. What or who would you say is the leading producer of bullshit in the modern and postmodern Western world in your scholarly paper?

Some of you might argue that it is government and politicians who are the leading purveyors of bullshit in the modern and postmodern world. Others of you might argue that it is capitalists and corporations with their advertisements which are the modern version of snake oil. Still others of you might argue that the leading purveyor of bullshit in the modern and postmodern world are those leaders and followers of stone age religions and their religious institutions who seem to have mastered the demagogic rhetoric of both politicians and capitalists simultaneously.

All three of these are arguably superb choices for the winner of the master bullshiters of the universe contest. None of them, however, would be my choice for the leading producers of bullshit per square inch and per capita in the modern and postmodern world. My choice would be academia and academic bureaucrats. Faux coops and the leaders of faux coops would come in a very close second in my rankings of who bullshits the most in our modern and postmodern best of all possible worlds.

In this my first foray into the no bullshit academic zone I want to introduce you to one of the documents of academia that produces some of the highest bullshit quotient in academia, the philosophy of teaching letter one might be asked to write when applying for an academic position. Instead of bullshitting, however, I have decided not to play the nudge nudge wink wink bullshit game most play when applying for an academic position. So tighten your seatbelts for it is going to be a bumpy ride.


Dear Search Committee,
So you want my philosophy or thoughts on teaching in higher education, eh? Well OK. Before I begin, however, let me note that I, unlike, I suspect, most of those who teach in colleges and universities these days whether tenured faculty, wanna be tenured faculty, or the ever growing contingent of contingent faculty, have taken a philosophy of education class. As an undergraduate at Indiana I took several graduate level courses in education including a philosophy of education course. In my philosophy of education course we talked about educational and schooling ideas from Socrates to Plato and from Aristotle to Dewey. In my class we talked about ideals of education and schooling, in other words, so let me start there, with my ideal philosophy or practise of education.

My ideal of education and schooling actually and perhaps ironically comes from a real world example, from the sadly far too few experiences I had as an undergraduate at Indiana University in Bloomington and a graduate student and teacher at Ohio University in Athens. At IU some of my classes would occasionally hold class at restaurants near campus. The same thing happened at OU and it particularly happened in the classes I took with the brilliant Algis Mickunas. I recall with great delight the occasional class meetings Mickunas held at one of the many downtown pubs in Athens. Dr. Mickunas would talk about the subject of the class on a particular class—I took classes on Marxism, Semiology, and Phenomenology—to which we would listen amidst the wonderful informal atmosphere, and then we students would talk about what we heard. To me this almost Socratic, Platonic, and Aristotelian practise is the ideal, an ideal that lends itself to real education, to real learning, to real critical learning, something that cannot fully take place, in my opinion, in the highly bureaucratised and standardised settings of American colleges and universities where the emphasis is on socialisation and getting a job rather than on critical thought.

While I am still reveling in my ideal educational model let me note that my second favourite model of the philosophy of education is the Oxbridge model. When I was an undergraduate at Indiana I spent a term at Jesus College, Cantab where I experienced first hand a variant on the classical Greek education model, Oxbridge tutorials. I liked the directed reading and directed discussion aspects of the Oxbridge model and treasure not only what I learned at Camb but also how I learned.

I do, of course, live in the “real world” of neoliberalism’s making. I can, of course, be pragmatic and recognise that in the context of American neoliberal schooling practises tutorial “philosophies” and practises of education will never play in contemporary cost conscious American colleges and universities where the Prussian model has, since the 1980s, become even more Prussian, even more big bang for the increasingly limited buck. Such a bureaucratic and administration heavy schooling model, by the way, is, in my opinion, slowly but surely strangling liberal arts education in the United States.
So let’s talk a little “real world”. When I teach whatever it is I teach—history, sociology, communications, media studies, cultural anthropology, the humanities, the social sciences, I have taught them all—my “educational and teaching philosophy” in approaching whatever classes I teach, can, I think, be summed up briefly and succinctly: I try to teach critical thinking. I try to teach, at least in part, that critical ability to apply deductive and inductive logic and theory to the evidence in order to distinguish proverbial rot from that proverbial what is not rot, something which I think should be at the heart of liberal arts education.

How do I try to do this? In the classes I teach I do talk about and engage or try to engage students in the substance of the course I am teaching whatever that course. At the same time I also emphasise how social scientists and practitioners of the humanities approach the substance of whatever class I teach. I introduce students to the economic perspectives that the social sciences and humanities look at empirical evidence through, the political perspectives they look at empirical evidence through, the cultural perspectives they look at empirical evidence through, the geographical perspectives they look at empirical evidence through, and the demographic perspectives they look at empirical evidence through.

Finally, let me assure you that you should not worry about my sanity. I know that what I have said about critical thinking in this document has little relevance in much of the real academic world of go to school because it can get you a wonderful job in the wonderful world of neoliberal America. But hey, sometimes a boy has to dream.

Yours sincerely,
Dr. Ronald Helfrich

Saturday, April 15, 2017

We Believe in One God, the Invisible Hand, and His One and Only Son, the Invisible Hand

It is an undeniable fact that meanings and meaning or symbol systems are at the heart of human life, human experience, and the human construction of “reality”. Most humans, of course, don’t want to admit that they construct the "reality" that they mistake for reality. They don’t want to admit that that which they think is “real” is, in actuality, a social and cultural construction, because that would mean that those norms, rules, regulations, values, behaviours, and intellectual models, that they have come to believe in, have followed, and have come to see as universals are nothing more than ideological particulars fetishised usually by the powerful.

I was recently reminded of just how central meanings and meaning systems were and are in everyday human life by a post by Libertarians on Facebook. The post, topped off with one of those typically silly memes that dominate social media today, had a smiling Milton Friedman, one of the high priests of the Church of Laissez Faire, proclaiming that “If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in five years there’d be a shortage of sand.”

Putting aside the fact that there is no evidence that Freidman ever said this, something that any analyst of the libertarian mind might revealing, I think the belief among some of the faithful that Friedman did say this and the meanings inherent in this statement provides analysts with a key symbol that allows meaning archaeologists to explore the libertarian mind.

So what does this key or central symbol tell us about the libertarian mind? The fact that this statement, whether it is meant as a joke or not, is empirically wrong—the 9 million square mile Sahara Desert is part of Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Western Sahara, Sudan and Tunisia—reveals that those who lead and those who worship in the Church of Laissez Faire are akin, in terms of their mentalities, to the faithful of religious communities in general. This statement is a statement of faith, of dogma, of theology, rather than a statement of fact.

At the heart of the Libertarian Faith is fetishised ideologies masquerading as universal verities, universal verities expressed in its creed, “We Believe in the One Free Market” and endlessly in its catechisms, “We Believe in the One Free Market”. Befitting a religion, the Church of Laissez Faire has its own Torah. Its Exodus is the tale of how the Invisible Hand created the world. Its Numbers is the tale of how its Invisible Hand deus ex machina instantiated the Logos, his son the Invisible Hand, in the world it created, in the form of mechanical self operating mathematical formulae. Its Leviticus is the tale of how access to the Logos is only possible through the medium of the holy Laissez Faire Priesthood. Its Exodus is the tale of how the knowledge of the Logos was lost thanks to monopolising monarchs and heretical Keynesians. Its Deuteronomy is the tale of how the Logos was resurrected by the holy Laissez Faire priesthood in those years after they returned from the wildernesses of monarchical mercantilists and the Keynesian welfare states after the 1970s.

Libertarianism is like religious meanings systems in a variety of ways. Like any religion the Libertarian faith has its orthodox, the Holy Laissez Faire priesthood, and its heretics, Keynesians, Communists, Socialists, and, most prominently these days “liberals”, ironic since libertarians too are liberals. Like any religion the Libertarian faith has its scapegoats, usually, these days, an evil “liberal” government in thrall to crony capitalism. Like any religion the Libertarian faith has been subject to sectarianism. You have, for example, your Straussians, your Friedmanians, your Randians, your Chrisstian Libertarians, your Steinerians, your Rothbardians, and your Blockians, to name just a few. Like any religion the Libertarian Faith ignores evidence that contradicts its statements of faith, such as, for example, the fact that the Saharan Desert is still there despite being the part of several governments and despite the realities of climate change it helped bring about.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Heresy in the Corporation: Damnation, Repentance, and Salvation at Honest Weight?

Drama seems to be the old normal and new normal at the Honest Weight Food Corporation in Albany, New York. Whether it is the Board attempting to end the membership worker programme. the management firing a member of staff, the Board cleansing an elected member of the Board from the Board, or the high school like atmosphere of the Corporation with its omnipresent cliques and serial whingers, Honest Weight, like all work places I am familiar with, is the corporate equivalent of a petty and sometimes vile three ring circus TV reality programme.

The most recent drama at the Corporation has involved the firing of long time employee Ned Depew from his job at the Corpop and the stripping of Depew, an elected member of the Board, from the Board, the governing legislative, judicial, and executive body of the Corpop. Both have been somewhat controversial, at least among some staff, so controversial, in fact, that the Board felt the need to lay out a writ of particulars against an unnamed Depew (as if this was taking the high road; everyone knew and knows who the subject of the writ is) in a document I will call the "Dastardly Deeds of Ned Depew".

I don't actually need to see this document to know what is in it. If such documents were a film they would be a genre. The Dastardly Deeds of Ned Depew is undoubtedly full of the usual cliches and the usual suspects. It undoubtedly paints Depew as serially belligerent. It undoubtedly paints Depew as a serial bully. It undoubtedly paints Depew as a serial abuser. It undoubtedly refers second handedly to various complaints made against Depew over the years. It undoubtedly paints Depew as unrepentant threat to other staff, member workers, and shoppers at the Corpop. It undoubtedly does not give Depew the right to respond to his critics.

What is undoubtedly missing from the Dastardly Deeds of New Depew is what is always missing from all such bureaucratic documents, an engagement with the contradictions and the counterevidence. The Dastardly Deeds of Ned Depew undoubtedly does not address how, if Depew was such a bully, he managed to hold on to his job for seven years. The document undoubtedly does not address the issue of how many times Depew was given or not given pay rises during his tenure at the Corpop, a measure of employee compliance with the "rules". The document undoubtedly does not address how, if Depew was such a tyrant that even the powers that be feared his wrath, legislation he opposed while a member of the Board, the attempt to end the membership programme and the power grabbing legislation to limit the number of staff on the Board, for instance, was passed by the Board. The document undoubtedly does not address the fact that Depew was given the opportunity to repent and be saved if he took mandated behavioural modification classes. The document undoubtedly does not address the fact that there have been tensions on the Board between Depew and members of the OrangeBunch, the political faction at the Corporation that was instrumental in overthrowing the previous Board and its management team, tensions that have apparently resulted in other Board members and OrangeBunch fellow travellers yelling at Depew at Board meetings. Needless to say, the fact that those who yelled aggressively at Depw go presumably unpunished points up the fact that the "rules" are selective enforced at the Corpop. The document undoubtedly does not address the rumours, some of them emanating from OrangeBunchers themselves, that Depew was being punished for his behaviour on the Board. The document undoubtedly does not address the fact that Depew was excommunicated from the Board at a point that made it impossible for him to run for re-election to the Board, an indicator, I would add, of the lack of commitment of the powers that be at Honest Weight to the democratic process they supposedly value and an indication of the real motives for the excommunication of Depew at this particular moment in time. Ah, those perks of power.

Speaking of the perks of power, the powers that be are not likely to allow social scientists like myself access to complaints against Depew so we can ascertain the quality of those complaints. In the absence of dispassionate analysis all we are left with is what one source said to me about these complaints, many might readily be interpreted as the product of a whinging or whining culture.

Anyone with a critical bone in their bodies knows that such lacunae are clear and obvious evidence of the real purpose of the Dastardly Deeds of Ned Depew. This document is not a dispassionate or objective writ of particulars against New Depew. It is the product, in large part, of an attempt by the Board to rationalise and justify its actions in the face of criticism. The Dastardly Deeds of New Depew, in other words, is an apologetic and polemic. What happened to Ned Depew at the Corporation, a fate one source told me was not favoured by every Board member, raises questions about the impact of the long standing petty politics, petty squabbles, sometimes vile politics, and the need to discipline "deviants", including "deviant" speech ("the suede denim secret police") at the Corpop on Depew's case. Most HonestWeighters don't seem to care for whatever reason. Some of those who do care seem to ascribe infallibility to management and the Board and see the Dastardly Deeds of Ned Depew as the gospel truth (Corpop fundamentalists). Needless to say all of this is par for the human course. As for me, I am really tired of all the pathetic ritual high school like drama.

Anyway, broadly speaking in ideal types, there are really, after everything is taken into account, two broad types of people in modern and postmodern societies. There are those who have been socialised to accept the norms, values, behaviours (including emotions), and beliefs (ideologies) of a group, whatever that group might be (clan, tribe, clique, society), and who do not question the norms, values, behaviours, and beliefs they have acquired through socialisation (see the Asch, Milgram, and Stanford experiments). They believe society, for example, is the way it is because god, nature, or the way it is made it the way it is. They are the devoted faithful. Then there are those who question the "eternal verities", who question the wisdom of the "best and brightest", who simply don't accept, on some level, that things are the way they are because some godlike force, nature, or chance made things the way they are. They recognise that society, its culture, its norms, its mores, its values, its ideologies, and its power relations are social and cultural constructs, are fetishisations. Ned Depew is one of the latter. He is a "rebel", a "delinquent", a "troublmaker", a "heretic", you fill in the blank. All of such classifications and categorisations, as Foucault noted, are the means the powerful use to keep the masses in line. This is why Depew is not particularly liked by so many, the so many who simply believe they live in the best of all possible god given or nature given worlds and the cynically powerful who use emotional appeals to manipulate the devoted masses for their own gain, however that is defined. Durkheim in the early days of sociology and cultural anthropology called all this society worshipping its own social and cultural constructions and he noted that the social and cultural construction of deviance (making scapegoats) played an important role in keeping the masses in line.

For the record, Ned Depew is NOT one of my sources.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Round and Round: Keeping up with Korpdashians

Even before I became a member and then a staff member of Honest Weight Food Corporation, also known as the Honest Weight Food Co-op, I heard, from a number of people over the years, that Honest Weight was and is, a cesspool of petty politics. It was, in fact, for this reason that it took me twenty or so years to join. It was only when I became a staff member at Honest Weight, however, that I saw firsthand just what a mess it was and is and in a variety of ways. First off, there is the "democratic" or should I say non-democratic aspect. The Corpop, largely for propaganda or branding purposes, claims to be "democratic". The actions of its powers that be, however, tell a very different story. There was the decision by the Politburo, oops, sorry, I mean the Board, to limit member staff representation on the Board, a decision Ned Depew opposed and for which he appears to now be paying the price for. Depew has been fired from the staff and excommunicated from the membership ranks of Honest Weight. By limiting the number of staff on the Board the current Board created fractions of have and have nots at the Corporation, a fraction of members that can have as many members on the Board as possible and another fraction who have been granted by royal proclamation only two places on the Board. There were the appointments of individuals to the Board by the Board of individuals to fill empty Board seats. On two occasions during my tenure at the Corpop those appointed to the Board finished below others who were passed over by the Board for what should be obvious reasons. Mr. Depew, sadly, played a role in this for reasons that seemed political to me. There was the aforementioned fact that an elected Board member has been excommunicated by the Board around Board election time for what should be obvious reasons and isn't allowed to run for election or present his reasons at the forthcoming Membership Meeting for why he wants to end the discriminatory practise put in place by the Board recently which limits member staff representation on the Board to a, in theory at least, two seats. So much for Corpop "democracy".

Secondly, there is the "benevolent capitalist" aspect. The Honest Weight Food Corporation sees itself and portrays itself, just like other benevolent capitalist institutions, as a caring and responsible member of the place where they do business. It real mission is the same as any other for profit corporation, however, and that is to make money. Once again Honest Weight's hardly benevolent actions speak much louder than its largely we care words. There is the fact that floor staff get paid substantially less than management. There is the fact that staff, those who actually know what is really going on in the store, are, particularly now that the Board has outlawed more than two staff on its Board, limited in power in a place that was once a cooperative, if perhaps only in theory. There is the fact that floor staff isn't paid anything close to a living wage.

Thirdly, there is the bureaucratic aspect. Though the Honest Weight Food Corporation brands itself as a cooperative it is, in reality, a classic modern bureaucracy in the Weberian and Foucaldian sense. Power is distributed, just as it is in any other modern and postmodern society, unequally. Those few at the top of the hierarchical bureaucratic pyramid, HW's own 1%, have more power and get significantly more of a salary than those 99% at the bottom of the power and income pyramid. This fact alone means that when HW says it is a cooperative that it is spewing empty rhetoric once again for presumably propagandistic or branding purposes. Needless, to say the managerial elite and enablers of the managerial elite, the latter Honest Weight's iteration of Erik Olin Wright's contradictory middle class. Modern bureaucracies like Honest Weight inevitably create a bureaucratic aristocracy and a bureaucratic middle class with their own identities and cultures. Among the latter is the sense that what they, us, do is more important than that of the proletariat, them.

Fourthly, there is the paranoia angle. The current Board seems to have an irrational fear that staff members are going to take over the Corporation and instantly establish a worker's state. Mr. Depew, of course, was a staff member. Such a fear of workers, of course, has a long history in the US and in Europe though some might be surprised that such irrational fears exist at an institution that claims to be different from the broader society. Such paranoia, by the way, has little basis in reality and there is a remedy should, in the extremely unlikely case that such a delusion become a reality. Those opposed to a workers cooperative could, just as the OrangeBunch who are the dominant faction at the Corpop currently, did not so long ago. They could call for a special membership meeting and overthrow the workers state just like they overthrew the previous regime at Honest Weight that is if such a remedy has not been eliminated by the current Board during its by-laws revisions.

For those of you interested in why Depew was fired I have learned the following from several sources. First, Depew was accused of bullying, sexism, and racism (these can and sometimes do involve the controversial regulation of speech). Second, he was accused or retaliation, apparently a fireable offence or so say the seven Board members who backed his firing and the omnipresent Corpop lawyers, by naming the person who accused him of bullying claiming s/he wanted to get him fired. For the record, I have never seen Depew bully anyone nor have I heard him say anything remotely sexist or racist. I have never heard or seen Depew retaliate against anyone. I have never heard or seen Depew engage in any of the interations of that patented high schoolish namecalling behaviour that is so common among our species. I have heard those associated with the OrangeBunch complain about Depew and say that he needed to go. I have it from a very reliable source that two members of the Board hate Depew. Another of my in the know sources told me that there was "a clear attempt to ruin Ned [Depew's] reputation" at the Corpop. Would it surprise you if I told you that the person who whinged about Depew is tight with the two Board members who, according to a source, hated Depew?

I could go on but I don't have the time or inclination at the moment. It is all too surreal, hypereal, whatever.