"...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

Sep 29, 2011

Cornucopia; Thank You

More, not less.


To respond to the conditions created by the inequality of wealth, of distribution, and the application of power with a call to asceticism is to provide the wealthy with a weapon against the poor and those with declining fortunes. The wealthy need fewer weapons, not more. Taking what they have, with an eye to not getting caught up in their systems of justice: a good start.

Their wealthy is complexified. It takes forms which defy the needs of their victims, and their throwaway surplus populations. You can't eat a yacht. We can't shelter beneath an iPod. You cannot dress yourself in game code.

Complexity and diversity aren't problems which can be solved. They are conditions, and comparisons. A puzzle, or a society, or a distribution system, is not complex in and of itself. It is more or less complex, by comparison to other systems.

A system created by people - be it social, or mechanical or digital, however limited or expansive - is a tool. Some tools are techniques. Some tools are objects. A justice system is a tool, often encompassing both objects and learned skills. A set of social mores is a set of tools and techniques.

A complex system will likely have a larger number of tools and techniques, some interlocking, some in conflict. A simple system may have a number of tools and techniques, but fail to arrive at comparative complexity because those tools are used according to methods and cross purposes which contribute to frictions and the wasting of energy. The system does not complexify because its energy is captured in its own decay. (There's a lesson in that.) Some systems remain simple because simple works. Until it doesn't.

There are also techniques which generate friction and disruption in order to police behaviors and govern responses to behaviors in others. As a way of preserving the benefits which accrue to the operators of large, complex systems. Think: masculinity, homophobia, "rugged individualism," drug interdiction, racial and economic isolation. Think: faggot, bitch, cunt, whore, nigger, gook, spic, wetback, kike and retard. Think: the effort and time which goes into cultivating people who must defend masculinity, homophobia, "self-reliance," using their own colonized and compromised minds and bodies as tools against others.

Let's consider: many of these techniques are learned young, from people who learned them young; it doesn't have to be planned. People devote considerable time and effort into reduplicating themselves in their children, without a master plan. Still, these are tools and techniques. And they serve the masters of a complex system which not only tolerates the disruptive friction of social war and conflict, but encourages and rewards it. Men are elected to office on platforms of bigotry, while glamoring crowds with "rugged masculinity." Companies market to identities, and sub-demographics -

A man buys a gun because an Other moved in next door.  Maybe he buys it because he cannot make the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compestela, and likes the feel of a holy relic in his hands. Or, his fears take hold of a commodity. He buys a piece of death itself.

A teen aged girl exchanges a plastic permission slip for some slip-on fucky

A child is caged because he acts out, and becomes a feast of profit for peddlers of drugs, and peddlers of therapy.

Withdrawing into the identities which serve the maintenance of the system is not unlike advocating asceticism and puritanism in the face of inequity. It has a preservative function. It keeps the oppression fresh, by validating the forms and norms repression and oppression create. Identity re-directs and captures the energy and effort which, when used against the system, might degrade its functioning.

Identity, like poverty, constrains. It is a straight jacket. A prison cell. A gangland turf which, undefended, becomes subject to the need for a stout defense. Personality is given over to safeguarding identity; it is weaponized - until the identity subsumes the personality, and the experience of the world from a unique vantage is lost to the conformity of the identity. It becomes unbearable to tolerate "appropriation"; the personality embraces the poverty, demanding replication in others who share the markers of the identity created by tensions, frictions and oppressions. It reduces itself.

This reduction has an effect, even when lacking purpose.

The system generates new perpetrators: those who enforce the oppressions, and those who enforce the identities which capture personae in the struggle against oppression. Persons become levers. They become tools.

To demand asceticism (which is usually also disguised as "simplicity") - of persona or conduct - is to command others (or self) to whittle personality down into a sharp object or a blunt instrument. It is an insistence on an evangelical submission to a persistent affliction: the single personality disorder.  The experience of the world becomes instead the experience of a self which submits to the constraints* of an identity that rejects complexity and diversity in order to preserve that same experience of a single personality self from the frictions, contradictions, conflicts and  horrors of a less than fully human existence.

The fully human existence is not an absolute. It is not universal. For the sake of brevity, but not simplicity, the fully human existence can be understood as "how the wealthy live." In a society without concentration of wealth or authority, it would probably be something else. Something truly "new upon the earth."

It might even be a cornucopia. But, to fashion that un-system of flourishing selves and unconstrained existence, it might do well to remember what asceticism and defended identity accomplish.

Let's just say the advocates of each do not understand "truth in advertising." There's no blame to them. Look who made them. And who made them. And so on.

All the same, isn't it worth a try?

Can you imagine the sort of people produced by this kind of society?

Can you fathom the person who takes shape under those conditions?

A wonder, I think. A wonder for the ages. And not one built of lies, suffering and slave carried stone...


Perhaps there is no more insidious phrase than "Thank you."

"Thank you" is an enforcement. It is a recognition of inequity, and a submission to it. Gratitude requires the grateful to participate in their inequity, and by doing so, to validate it.

A clue as to why it's so damned important to force children to say it all the time?

There's no good reason to be thankful for the demonstration of inequity. Unless you have a vested interest in rituals of submission.

What of gifts, and courtesy between lovers and friends, you ask?

What is freely given can be freely received, no?

What purpose does the ritual of submission serve between free and freely equal persons?

Well, is it really always about submission?

Of course not. And sometimes the word "cunt" isn't used to humiliate...

* - which are often also manufactured


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

A video, Jack?

Brian M said...

Have to admit this (and the preceding post) was pretty fascinating writing.

Not sure I agree the rituals of politeness are always wrong, though. Sometimes the bold are merely jerks for the sake of being jerks. Sometimes uncomformity has no value but shock value.

Sometimes the rules merely exist to ease social interaction. Is thanking a store clerk really giving him obeissance? Or demanding obeissance from him? Is it wrong to acknowledge via a simple pleasantry a mutually agreed upon transaction? Why?

Jack Crow said...


If we assume theoretical equals, expressions of gratitude and thankfulness don't seem to carry any intimations of submission.


That deprives of us the actual context. We are told and cajoled and threatened into thanking adults who have power over us as children. And not by happenstance.

Children are instructed - over a period of time lasting more than a decade - to show gratitude to the very people who have power over them. To thank them for acts which amount to the distribution of largesse from a pool of captured goods.

Obviously, not every expression of gratitude is a submission ritual.

But, the instruction takes hold as an enforced ritual which solidifies the subjection of the child to the adult. And it is from that place that we re-enact day in and day out with those who control our lives and livelihood.


I am a stupid man. What significance, the video?

Jim H. said...

After several readings, I think I get what you're saying. Systems that generate inequalities cannot produce equal "fully human existences". You try to imagine what a system that does not generate such concentrations of wealth and authority might produce: it might even be a cornucopia. Or better: an un-system of flourishing selves and unconstrained existence.

It's interesting, but speculative—which you acknowledge. I think back to Orwell's Animal Farm: the question is whether dogs and pigs are products of the barnyard society or barnyard society is a function of there being dogs and pigs. If the former, you might be on to something; if the latter, then some constraints might necessarily be in order.

Jack Crow said...


I usually compose what I write. Pare it down, strip words or phrases which muck with my sense of meter, translate technical concepts into ordinary idiom, craft a narrative skeleton, etc.

I didn't employ that method this time, because I wanted the original thought process to be exposed to criticism without the imposed narrative and composed tone distracting from the flaws in my argument or reasoning.

In other words, the above is raw notes, strung and linked together by the thoughts and ideas only.

Even more briefly, it's shit.


Mea culpa aside, yes and no.

I'm toying with the idea that we don't have cornucopias because we have identities which were formed by abuse, the consequences of which constrain us into repeating patterns of conduct, some of us as enforcers of the larger system, some of us as enforcers of the populated identities which are subject to that system. Because - even without a master plan - this works to preserve power, especially in a very complex system which employs a number of social techniques which rupture people into competing identities.

Or something like that.

I think this is directly related to the idea expressed in the post below: politeness is self-policing. The common root of both words is not accident.

Devin Lenda said...

Forced apologies make an interesting comparison to forced thank you's.

The forced thank you and the forced apology both reestablish the hierarchy upset by authority's suffering. Authority is, however temporarily or ultimately meaninglessly, in the non-dominant or maybe inferior position. Loss of time, energy, money in gift giving; pain after the five year-old delivers a kick to the groin. Apologies and thank you's among equals can help re-establish anarchy (you gave me something, I gave you the words "thank you," now we're somewhat even), forced apologies and thank you's re-establish hierarchies.

ts said...

Usually*, when people say thank you, I say "You're welcome." or "My pleasure." It indicates that while the supplicant is offering to place him/herself beneath me, I refuse that submission by indicating that I am giving assistance to the person as a fellow human being, and I would hope* that said person would do the same for me if our positions were reversed, further indicating the symmetry of our humanity.

*Replace usually with always and hope with expect.

Similarly, asceticism does not give the wealthy more power. It takes it away. It acknowledges the system of consumption is a mug's game that only results in redistribution upward. Asceticism refuses to play the game. Not only in a dynamic sense through the circular flow of money, but internally by reconforming our own reality to truly identify what we really need. Love, friendship, personal growth. It doesn't come cheaply made from China.

Jack Crow said...


I think you miss the context. It makes a world of difference.

The children who become adults are not, by and large, raised in anarchist egalitarian collectives.

They are raised in little tyrannies, with the ceremonies and rituals of obeisance and apology (to give Devin's point the due it deserves), predicated on raw power.

So too with your lens on asceticism. It elides the world in which it actually takes place, one where scarcity is a function of power and concentration.

Hence: more, not less.

Mark S said...

I haven't read enough of either, but it seems this is territory Arthur Silber (and Alice Miller) are working as well?

For my part, I remember a terribly acted but devastatingly well-conceived instructional film I watched circa 1990, on the subject of "shame-based realities." My role at the time was that of counselor rather than counselee, and I'd already read a good bit about "addictive systems" and "dysfunctional families," but that crappy little film brought home the way those dynamics that were discovered and named in association only with explicit addictions are in fact far more pervasive, everyday experiences. It hit me viscerally on a personal level, and made clear to me as well that shame-based reality was also a cultural reality -- along with being the verse that Mose Allison left out of How Much Truth Can a Man Stand (maybe because he knew).

Jack, I'm a believer in etymology, words meaning more than we intend them to mean when we use them, every word a myth, etc. -- and I know your comment was part of an explicit effort to write without fact-checking -- so I looked it up, and much as it works as folk etymology, police runs back to politia, or civil administration, polis, and city, while polite's roots are to do with polishing or making smooth. No word on whether "city slickers" are the missing link. And still, no surprise I'm sure if I confirm there's shared ancestry between police and "politics."

Thank You brought me back to a captioned picture I once saw that had been dug out of a public library's clippings archive by a younger acquaintance who was so dumbstruck by it she had to show it around. It was a magazine photo of a wheelchair-bound young person from maybe the 1950's, captioned something like, "Alice is grateful for the assistance she receives at the hands of her caregivers." By the time that clipping turned up, the raw condescension it depicts had disappeared from public display, as required by "polished" good manners (as per prior post Advice for Children, Unsolicited). But like a lot of racism it's just gone underground -- and like shame-based reality, it's pervasive, given to turn up anywhere there's sufficient inequality, and functionally not much different from, say, a ruling elite that expects nothing but gratitude for its efforts.

Jack Crow said...


A fond hope: that more recognize the root shared by "police" and "polite."

Mark S said...

Nina Paley says don't let's forget "peaceful."