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Monday, March 25, 2013

The Violent Disorder

Goya Saturn
Detail from Francisco de Goya's Saturno devorando a su hijo
At around 4500 words or so, Richard Lichtman's essay at Truthout, The Violent Disorder of Our Public Mind, does a remarkable job of capturing both the forest and the trees of what constitutes the malady of modern collective Western thought. He calls it capitalism, and that is a good word for it. It is only a word, however, and what it has come to represent to both its detractors and its supporters has been through so much defamation and rehabilitation as to become the proverbial finger pointing at the moon.

In his article, Lichtman redirects our attention to the moon. I'll drop a few excerpts here, but the whole point of this plagiarism is to direct you to go and read the whole thing.
For fragmentation, like loneliness or isolation, is only possible in society. It is only when we compete with each other for power and domination, when each of us comes to regard others as impediments to our own realization, all of which are of, course, social forms of action, that we experience ourselves as simultaneously individual and social, encountering acutely the very opposition between our individuality and our social nature....
[...]
The public mind is the pattern of meanings and the system of feelings, desires and aspirations established in the codes, rules and symbols embedded in the objective structures of social, economic, historical and political life. Subjectively, it is the set of assumptions, convictions, beliefs and values that ground the shared sense of social existence of the multitudinous groups that constitute a given social order.

We have difficulty grasping the sense of public mind because in our time the collectivity that exists is obscured by the illusion that the individual is the source rather than the consequence of the culture of capitalism. But all we need to convince ourselves of the existence of social reality is to pass through a significant economic crisis in which we cannot find work because the capitalist cannot locate consumers for his production while his plant lies idle and its machines useless; the commodities they might make available cannot find the workers to operate the machines that would produce them or the consumers to purchase them. This is an irrational system, one in which everything that is required depends on other characteristics that themselves cannot function without the contribution of those aspects of the potential structure that remain actually idle. So, one might say, nothing can be what it is unless everything else is what it was intended to be; and yet, the same can be said for every aspect of the idle system that therefore fails to function.
[...]
For capitalism is an economic system based on institutionalized greed, self-interest, accumulation, expansion, domination and disregard of the lives of others. It is a system of power in blatant opposition to democracy, which is an order of values that exalts simultaneously the individual's uniqueness and capacity for cooperative relationships organized on behalf of justice, equality, dignity and universal freedom.
[...]
How has the United States been able to integrate the contradictory tendencies of capitalist exploitation and democratic idealism? The answer is simple, pathetic and unavoidable: The ostensible integration has never taken place. Since its earliest history and with growing force and increasing speed, the United States has embraced the elitist domination of capitalist power and cloaked itself in the illusion of democratic self-righteousness. "Democracy," or its semblance, has been shaped to support the ravages of capitalist exploitation, while providing the illusion of its devotion to restraining and remaking the ills of economic malice.

...simply cast your gaze at the fraction of the populace that owns and controls the essential means of social domination, not even the 1% but the 1/10th of 1%, whose wealth and consequent power is more than equivalent to that of the struggling remainder of the citizenry....
[...]
Is it any wonder that terror and violence prowl about the wasteland of so many lives, or that the larger majority succumbs to apathy and paralysis?...

From the beginning of American history, human relations were constructed through a series of antagonisms: the European settlers against native Americans and Mexican populations; human beings against nature and those same human beings divided again by privilege and power exercised against each other.
[...]
...it is not the individual atrocities that are the essence of this history but the pattern of imperialist carnage; the underlying structure of dehumanized self-aggrandizement that is most to be explored, comprehended and expunged....
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The basic aspects of capitalism are: 1) exploitation, 2) expansion, 3) access to state power, 4) enhanced technology, and 5) control of the conscious and unconscious processes of the mentality of the populace.
[...]
...whether given capitalists embrace this condition or not, if they refuse to compete for a greater share of this wealth, they will find themselves driven from the marketplace and replaced by a new agent who is perfectly willing to take up the missing opportunity. It is not personal temperament or greed that produces capitalism, but capitalism that produces competitive greed. It must, of course, be the case that capitalism could not have originated absent a character structure that was attracted to personal advantage. But this characteristic was in some part the result of a desire for survival rather than enhancement and could not have persisted unless it was embodied in an expanding structure that encompassed more and more of social life.
[...]
Take without giving is one of the doctrines defining male culture, in which one's capacity to love or what passes for it is hoarded, and the accumulation of the love of others is an indication of a weakness in them that can be manipulated to one's advantage. Need for the love of others must be disguised by aggrandizement and apparent indifference and, consequently, of success in the economic struggle for love. ...[ed. note - see my post For The Love Of Success Is A Root Of All Kinds Of Evil...]
[...]
Note how many of these mass murders end in suicide, as though the promised moment of god-like power has been achieved, never to be reproduced again. In the life of such murderers this moment is intended to redeem their anguished trivialization. After the destruction of the other, it is vital to escape the mundane forces that have given rise to one's original rage. The world has been remade and one must leave it as such. One has entered the life of the vanished through one's own miraculous power to transform these others and one's self from the living into the dead. In murder, one enters the land of the transformed, lies with them, their life now absent, now void, as is one's own. This "nullity," as Weber referred to our contemporary condition, has realized the fulfillment of his prophecy in the horror of obliteration. When terror becomes the all too common currency of state and family, culture and sport, it should not surprise us that it finally comes to rest in the blind horror of individual life and death.

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