"...it's not the training to be mean but the training to be kind that is used to keep us leashed best." ~ Black Dog Red

"In case you haven't recognized the trend: it proceeds action, dissent, speech." ~ davidly, on how wars get done

"...What sort of meager, unerotic existence must a man live to find himself moved to such ecstatic heights by the mundane sniping of a congressional budget fight. The fate of human existence does not hang in the balance. The gods are not arrayed on either side. Poseiden, earth-shaker, has regrettably set his sights on the poor fishermen of northern Japan and not on Washington, D.C. where his ire might do some good--I can think of no better spot for a little wetland reclamation project, if you know what I mean. The fight is neither revolution nor apocalypse; it is hardly even a fight. A lot of apparatchiks are moving a lot of phony numbers with more zeros than a century of soccer scores around, weaving a brittle chrysalis around a gross worm that, some time hence, will emerge, untransformed, still a worm." ~ IOZ

Mar 28, 2010

Conspiracies and Boiler Rooms

I don't think every political outcome emerges from "backroom" deals.  Or very many of those outcomes, in all honesty. If any, at all.

It don't believe most conspiracy theories because they generally require the intended audience to believe that it takes six to six hundred people, working for six decades, across six continents, to move six grains of salt across a six foot table just so the other six billion of us don't catch on.

I do accept as a starting principle a basic rule of politics (which perhaps explains why I think electioneering and progressive caucusing, and the self-recriminations which follow after these methods inevitably fail to deliver intended outcomes, add up to so much shitbunkum):

Rich people (this means, people with concentrations of wealth and power) use available resources to keep what they have, and obtain more, or more kinds, of it.

Sure, they make deals outside of public scrutiny. That gets easier and easier, mind, as the perceptional topography know as "the public" dwindles. The more shit gets privatized, the more the res privata grows, the less material, space and loyalty to find tied up with the res publica.

Powerful people build the organizational pathways which allow them to best meet this end. Call it access, or superstructure, or just country club living.

To those without power, this might look like a conspiracy, a world of backroom deals. But that perspective comes with a primary error (I believe), namely that the existential spaces in which the majority of us live (that dwindling public space, and our own tenuous private and familial existences) provide the main arena where political and powerful shit really happens. If we believe that power derives from our quotidian choices, it doesn't take much leaping clearance to assume, wrongly, that what rich and powerful people do behind our backs amounts to conspiracies, backroom deals, boiler room corruption and all the rest of the distracting movie narrative fare.

That dwindling public space, and our own parochial lives, do not constitute the arena of power, no matter how many times the boss types try to placate us with tired slogans, such as "consent of the governed," "Main street," "will of the people" or "security of the homeland."

They do what they do, as a class, because they want to protect their wealth.

They pass and enforce laws defining property relations (with concomitant punishments for failure to obey), because doing so keeps them rich and powerful. They pass health care reform legislation, built on threats of force, because it keeps in place the mechanisms which transform our labor into their wealth and power. They send us to die in their wars because it puts nice toys in their yards and their kids into the best schools.

They don't need conspiracies and unwieldy epochal plans to do so.

By and large, they get away with it because we've got no effective choice in the matter. The consequences for insurrection (or even mere disobedience) range from heinous to fatal.

Sure, the rich and powerful collude.

Don't be surprised or even offended by this fact.

Don't call that a conspiracy.

Call it class values. The members of their class value their wealth, possessions, access, power, offspring and edification more than our very lives. They expend us in obtaining, keeping and protecting what they own.

Remember, they see us as staff, consumers, employees, personnel - as human resources. Raw material, refined material, some more heavily invested in than others, but instruments nonetheless.

Sometimes, they even look like us, as in the case of Ezra Klein (Fuck You, Ezra Klein), when he dutifully explains to us why we ought to consume political sewage ("health care reform"); or like the many others (yes, even you Jane, whom I personally respect; and all you domes over at the TPM, and most especially you silly Kosnikauts) who want to steer us into electioneering and narrow political struggles to determine who next gets to rule us, to the benefit of the moneyed classes.

They might not want us to be crushed so much that their consciences become troubled (you know, because they actively benefit from "the system"*), but they do not (often, or willfully) challenge the very organizational relationships of that systemic oppression itself.

By and large, these reformers (yes, you, Pseudo-Dennis) belong to the class which dominates us. They might want a nicer, gentler domination. They may even despise the foreign military imperialism, or the power of certain kinds of banks within the economic imperium.

Just don't count on these folks to go much further than that. From their perspective, they probably feel they've already gone really far out on a limb.

 They might even try super duper hard to end corruption, and stop back room dealing.

Which explains, I think, why they so often get it wrong, these reformers. They get it as wrong as the rightwingnuts who think that Barack Obama and Joe Biden have returned as avatars of Lenin and Stalin.

Their reformism obliges them to preserve the relationships of power whilst simultaneously trying to undermine a few of  the social, legal and political retaining walls by which wealth and power are kept from the rest of us (even though we build it, with our lives and labor).

They need "the system" to turn it against those parts of it which they reject. They need, as desperately as wingnut conspiracy theorists, to believe that back room deals and corruption and boiler rooms explain the problems of inequity, oppression, and power. They depend on this mythos of corruption.

And this explains, I believe, why they never fail to dive right into electioneering, into primarying "sell outs," into building turn out organizations, PACS and pressure groups.

It explains, also, why our dear reformist cousins (in much the same fashion as their wingnut counterparts) always fail to net the chimaera they so desperately seek.

You cannot reform the class interests of the rich and powerful, because they get and stay rich and powerful by looking out for themselves.

That shit cannot be "reformed."

Get it?

Got it.


* - I reject reifying human decisions into anonymous and amorphous systems, such as "inevitable monopolies," or "the Man," or the old standby, "The System of Oppression." As much as I reject "the People," et al.

(Thanks to ladypoverty and jeffroby @ corrente for the inspiration for this crowvian exercise in vanity.)


JRB said...

I think you've hit on the dynamic which informs deliberations within the ruling class: the need to fold competing elite interests into ruling class interests as a whole. Your point about "corruption" as it appears to the disenfranchised class is well taken: it does not signal dysfunction, but the proper functioning of an unequal exchange.

I would encourage you to think about the way in which class struggle informs this dynamic. The ruling class has particular objectives, but they are to a greater or lesser degree frustrated by the "everyday choices" of ordinary people. So far as the "arena of power" goes, think about the ways in which prevailing class power depends on the relative subservience of everyone else, and how the ruling class must modulate its approach in cases where people depart from their assigned roles. What we get in reality is a synthesis of this balance of power, reflected in society and its institutions. But where the balance lies precisely is something we want to be aware of, as it can explain a lot about what is going on around us and why.

I enjoyed reading this piece and hope you will continue developing your ideas and posting them for our benefit. I think you are onto something of your own that is original and refreshing.

Jack Crow said...


Great critique. Much grist for the mill, esp. in paragraph two.

Much obliged,