"...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

Aug 2, 2011

A Matter of Taste and Faith

In reading the comments here and here, and encountering yet again the conceit that people must be led for their own good, it occurred unkindly to me to try to understand why, or at least what for, that belief has such stock, and precedence.

So:

Must there be a chain of command in order for people to get fed, housed, clothed and ultimately make it through the day in such a way as to enjoy existence at least some of the time?

Or:

Does the chain of command exist in order to pilfer, beg, borrow and steal from the people who are just trying to feed, house, clothe and enjoy themselves?

I think how you answer is a matter of taste, temperament and faith. Further, I think how you answer (and the either/or ought to be preserved, for this thought experiment) illustrates the degree to which you've already made a decision about how much of your happiness and survival exceeds in importance that of others, and at what point you're willing to calculate the extent to which other people will be footing the bill, by surcharge or deprivation, for your continued and usually middle class existence.

I'm really not surprised when credentialed home owners make the argument that we need a hierarchy. Their continued relative ease depends on hierarchies, and while I don't agree with them or care to endorse their willingness to eat the poor for a Sunday ball game and boutique beer, I can empathize with their conditioning. Still, I do wonder what a formal study of the demographics and their correlation with one of the two sentiments above would show.

*

I was also asked, in comments below, if I think it's a function of guilt to use as a starting line the idea that those who opt out of the system are serving the system. En bref, not at all. This is an observation of a mechanism: by force, by law and by custom, there is never enough work to go around. Any time a person opts out, his or her job can be replaced by someone who will take a lower wage and do more work for it. I have run multi-million dollar operations, and posted record profits by counting upon this mechanism. It was also matter of deliberated policy to "clear the dross" from time to time, in order to ensure that the baseline of workers never saw a collective increase in wages which outpaced the company's reduction of cost, or increase in profit, productivity and EBITDA metrics.

This isn't an argument against opting out of the system. Some people will break if they don't. You have to live the life which suits you.

I just think it borders on falsehood and willful self-deception to argue or insist that opting out of the system will break it, degrade it or obstruct its operation. The system operates best when fewer jobs than employees exist.

If it were the case that opting out could disrupt our economy, or draw the political sphere into overreaction, we would see the degradation of its functions precisely during times like these (summer of 2011), when the system has shed tens of thousands of employees, while adding to the burdens of those workers and professionals who are retained.

And it's not happening.

22 comments:

Randal Graves said...

What's wrong with the chain of command? One of Patrick Stewart's finest efforts.

Jack Crow said...

Picard should have stayed a Borg. Now, no more Star Dreck.

Keifus said...

Hi Jack,

Accepting any dichotomy runs pretty well afoul of my temperment and taste, although I think yours is a pretty excellent reduction of the bigger hierarchy to reveal its fundamental points of contention. But it's not clear why those points should be mutually exclusive, or even that they are separable.

I'm pretty well down with hierarchy as something humans do, or at least something they do at a more fundamental level than trade or manage resources or labor, or whatever the kludge of the generation might be, that somehow ends up producing an entrenched hierarchy anyway, yet again. Maybe it's an emergent thing that comes as a byproduct of cooperation. In those semi-mythical times when we freely assign ourselves jobs, some people have better skills at organization and teaching after all, or of intimidation and bullshitting...

And maybe it's relevant to our organization that we all start out as children and then don't proceed to live very long. Are any families not hierarchical?

Fuck, I don't know if it benefits the system, but I'm looking more and harder at how conscientious objection, to the extent I can do it*, could benefit me.

K

*which is the candy-ass whitebread disclaiming way of whispering to myself, over my fourth boutique beer (or maybe cheap gin and cloves), that Big Brother'll never get my soul.

Jack Crow said...

Keifus,

I think it's fairly normal for Westerners to assume that hierarchy is normal. I spent most of my life assuming it, because what other model was available, really?

Our history is the history of kings and states. We are educated in hierarchies, and we work in them. Our families are organized as tyrannies, with a king and a queen the norm.

When we learn about Others, we reserve affinity of judgment for those most like us.

We could compare the Haudenosaunee with the Shawnee, as a case in point. The Shawnee were organized like most nations west of the Susquehanna, with "chiefs" who only had followers if followers agreed with them. Anytime a chief made a decision which was met with disapproval, he was abandoned. The normal reaction to a headman who overstepped his support was for his followers to move away.

The Haudenosaunee were organized "like" Westerners, at least as Europeans understood them. They had a constitution, division of power and something alike to a Magna Carta.

The colonists and early Americans borrowed liberally from the Haudenosaunee, before reducing them to poverty. They simply expelled or killed off the Shawnee.

And yet, the Shawnee, with no formal hierarchies, nearly managed to repel an American invasion under the tutelage of Tecumseh (who had to rely on persuasion, only, to raise an army) while the Haudensaunee's hierarchy compromised and conceded itself out of existence (a similar process followed, among the "civilized" Choctaw, Creek and Tsalagi).

Take also the Seminole, who had no formal hierarchy, who absorbed slaves and escaping white bondsmen liberally, and who fought an insurgency for the better part of a generation, without resorting to a chain of command.

*

I think we accept hierarchy as natural, normal and evolutionary not because it is actually so as a pre-determined outcome, but because we live where and when hierarchists (and their hierophants) have been victorious.

Jack Crow said...

Keifus,

Some families aren't hierarchies, but I think you are on the money to draw the discussion towards the family.

My own wife and I struggle every day to balance out our responsibility to protect people who didn't ask to be born with the strong desire to avoid producing obedient serflings.

One solution, in so much as that word does not imply permanence, is to encourage them to mock us, question us and find out flaws.

We also have a weekly meeting (informally) where they get to point out our mistakes and we get to voice our parental grievances (usually related to the failure to perform chores with angelic perfection...).

Keifus said...

Appreciate that bit o' context.

My followup hypothesis (forgive me, I've been turning this one over for so long that it's compost by now, and throwing some new evidence in the bin isn't going to be unwelcome) is that hierarchies may emerge as a function of population and resource pressures. (Or it may be a byproduct of stay-put agriculture, and ten thousand years later, we're still rationalizing the hell out of that tradeoff.) We organize because we need to find a way to cram people into a lesser space. We lack the option to move when our chiefs fail us, after all.

[Where did the French ever get "Iroquois" from?]

Jack Crow said...

Keifus,

I'm not much of a "literature is a good map to human history" reader, but there is perhaps no more instructive template story than that of Gilgamesh and Enkidu.

*

The French word, IIRC, is based upon a Huron pejorative.

Keifus said...

Never mind that last question--wikipedia is my friend.

For what it's worth, I feel very similar struggles as a parent. But we're all stuck in this house together, right? And I didn't like cleaning the bathroom either.

Karl Franz Ochstradt said...

Appreciate the response to my Q, Jack. It remains an interior dialogue for me, the answering of that Q.

Jack Crow said...

Karl,

I thought it worth a broader treatment. Hope that's okay.

I'm not much enamored of the idea that people, as people, are motivated by guilt. Guilt is certainly functional, but it's also highly individualized, in my experience.

Guilt is isolating. Which lends even greater doubt to the concept of collective guilt as a shared experience.

Abonilox said...

Uh, my family life is basically a blue-print for anarchy. Yeah, and I set it up that way intentionally.

Anyway, opting out, yeah well I didn't opt out, I got opted out. Like you, Jack, I too was capitalist overlord for a while. Not ruthless enough to survive at the top but too ambitious to stay in my cube.

Opting out starts in the brain. You gotta wake up first and realize that things aren't like they are of necessity. Wherever I was when that event occurred (wife, kids, responsibilities) that shit still goes on. There are personal, relational obligations that trump pretty much everything else.

So this blogging stuff may only be a few disgruntled malcontents whispering into the cyber wind, accomplishing nothing. Or we could be recording the moment when things actually changed.

Jack Crow said...

Abonilox,

The most potent idea I've ever encountered is Utah Phillips' "Long Memory."

If I had the loot, that's what I'd do with it.

Justin said...

"I'm really not surprised when credentialed home owners make the argument that we need a hierarchy. Their continued relative ease depends on hierarchies, and while I don't agree with them or care to endorse their willingness to eat the poor for a Sunday ball game and boutique beer, I can empathize with their conditioning. Still, I do wonder what a formal study of the demographics and their correlation with one of the two sentiments above would show. "

Yes, for the moment this encapsulates the reason I have slowly found myself alienated from most of my (white, middle class) friends on issues that go beyond college football.

Jack, thanks for this response. I think I'll be struggling with this forever as I know it. I suppose my argument for withdrawal is that if I believe I am contributing to a system that I find destructive and oppressive, then not contributing is a good first step.

Also, per your comments. Let's not forget the Commanche. As it would have it, I am currently reading Empire of the Summer Moon. A decent read, but the biases are a bit unbearable. One example, the author calls the Indians a savage, barbarous people, and documents in detail how they would torture and kill people. He barely references how it cut the other way, and does so only in vague general terms rather than the personal. There are tells. When the commanches won battles, they would often leave many survivors, often having decisively won the battle, would leave many survivors. On the other hand, when the white men won, they would kill the Indians down to the last, hunting every survivor down for miles. (Not to mention that the entire premise of the book is of a centuries long assault, first by the Spanish, then the descendants of the English, into breaking the Commanches.)

Yes, it is frustrating to run into tautological arguments about how the way things are is because that is the way they have to be re: hierarchy. I think a better reading is that the way things are is because the most vicious, psychotic culture of European civilization and its rigid, militaristic hiearchy, and its current form of industrial capitalism, has at this late date managed to either wipe out, degrade, or assimilate all other alternative ways of life through colonialism and pogroms.

I just think it borders on falsehood and willful self-deception to argue or insist that opting out of the system will break it, degrade it or obstruct its operation. The system operates best when fewer jobs than employees exist.
Also, yes, we are in agreement. However, I think my point is that to get from productive member of this system to one who opposes it meaningfully in action, there must be some kind of bridge of personal behavior and ability. Opting out is a first step toward meaningful resistance, not its end point. This is what I keep trying to get at with you. Its probably ultimately a hopeless, doomed fight, but its still one worth taking up. In any event, I suppose to continue this, we would have to define what meaningful resistance would mean. Then we would have to talk about how to get there.

I'll give it a first shot; Digby's blogging is not meaningful resistance, nor was my own. The hacker group Anonymous, in so far as they cost corporations money and resources, is.

(word verification synchronicity "Lies Sigh"

Landru said...

It is abundantly clear to me, and probably to Randal, that KFO's Q reference is a veiled and subversive gift to Trekkies.

Thanks, Karl. Vive l'insurgency.

Jack Crow said...

Want to beat the rain, Justin. Hope to have a coherent reply when I return.

Solar Hero said...

It was a long struggle for me to be able to re-engage with my fundamentalist family members. I was able to do it by accepting that they had the right to be told what to do. What you accurately call a "conceit" ("that people must be led for their own good") is held by those who fill the need of being told what to do.

Justin said...

We also have a weekly meeting (informally) where they get to point out our mistakes and we get to voice our parental grievances (usually related to the failure to perform chores with angelic perfection...)

It's Festivus every week at the Crow household. Awesome.

Karl Franz Ochstradt said...

Jack - totally okay... wouldn't have asked the Q if it weren't.

Abonilox @ 11:27am - sounds quite familiar. Could this be a common theme arising? You, Jack, me, Justin....

Karl Franz Ochstradt said...

Justin-

Opting out is a first step toward meaningful resistance, not its end point.

1,000 yeses to that. I need to detach in order to reframe; I think I need a full detachment first. This, because I am weak-willed and need to force changed circumstance upon myself.

Karl Franz Ochstradt said...

Landru, the subconscious memories of my childood Trek-playing must've been running the keyboard; on their behalf I say "you're welcome."

Jack Crow said...

Justin,

I think we are in agreement. I have no argument against people getting free of the gravity sink. I just don't think it collapses those sinks.

SH,

I think there's a tendency to set up opposing absolutes, as mental simulations. On the one hand, there's this belief that if only every person was self-reliant, autonomous and fully developed, society would be wicked awesome; on the other hand, if only everyone would deal into a complete collectivity, with full consciousness and seamless cooperation, life would become super awesome and wicked good.

The libertarians and Marxists, I think, fail to understand a fundamental and liberating obstruction to either simulation every becoming real: we are mortal mammals.

Justin said...

Jack,
Excellent, I think I knew we were in agreement for awhile from reading you, I just had to figure out how to say what I meant so that it was clearer.

I don't think its possible or desirable to be totally self-reliant and independant. But, one should have strive for capability, which is to say that they have the capacity to meet a need indpendantly currently met by interdependance with some work. I don't know every language on earth, but I am sure I could learn any of them if I had to.

Likewise, I don't need to purify my own water, but I should have some idea of how to do so if the tap stopped working.