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 Christian 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 counter evidence. 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 "troublemaker", 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.