Friday, May 12, 2017
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.
Dr. Ronald Helfrich Jnr.
Friday, May 5, 2017
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.
Dr. Ronald Helfrich
Saturday, April 15, 2017
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
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
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, however. Additionally, I have it from a very reliable source that two members of the Board hate Depew. Isn't that a nice cooperative attitude? Would it surprise you if I told you that the person who whinged about Depew is tight with these two Board members?
I could go on but I don't have the time or inclination at the moment. It is all too surreal, hypereal, whatever.
Thursday, February 23, 2017
Fact: the Democratic Party primary process is not democratic and is weighted to party insiders most of whom are neoliberal in ideological if not demagogic orientation. It should be no surprise that most of these insiders supported the insider candidate, Hillary Clinton. It was George McGovern, by the way, who democratised the Democratic Party presidential primary process after 1968 when the establishment candidate, Hubert H. Humphrey, "the Hump", despite limited success relative to Kennedy and McCarthy on the primary level, was going to be annointed the Democratic candidate for president in Chicago. It was undemocratised after the McGovern and Carter losses.
Fact: Republicans control 31 states. Democrats had to pull two old skeletons out of the closed to run for the US Senate in two of these states. They lost. Surprise, surprise. The moral of this story? Democrats don't play in many US states. In order to play with voters in these states they will have to become even more like Republicans. America's political paradox.
Fact: Democrats seem to think that demographics are on their side and seem to be waiting for a demographic messiah to come down from the skies. Whether this will come to pass is questionable. Example: success of Texas Republicans courting Hispanics. In he meantime they seem to be sitting around twiddling their thumbs and blaming everyone but themselves for their predicament while the Republicans, despite their disarray, control most of the states. Needless to say, a lot of the action, some of it ALEC inspired, is on the state level. The Democrat situation in some states is so bad that the opposition to Republicans is Republicans.
Fact: Democrats opted to take the neoliberal route after the McGovern and Carter defeats. They apparently believed it was the only way for them to survive, i.e. to get the big money necessary to compete against the Republican Party. This hasn't really brought Dems success particularly beyond the federal level. It has led to increasing defection from the Democratic Party.
Fact: Democrats don't seem to be able to face up to their own haplessness. They seem to prefer to blame everyone from Ralph Nader to Donald Trump to Russia for the disaster that is the contemporary Democratic Party. This scapegoating tells me all I need to know about contemporary Democrats.
Conclusion: Democrats are not the solution. They are part of the problem.
Saturday, January 14, 2017
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.