Posts Tagged ‘Meaning’

Analysis Goes Way Back In The Way Back Machine

June 18, 2017

“Totalitarian movements are possible wherever there are masses who for one reason or another have acquired the appetite for political organization. Masses are not held together by a consciousness of common interest and they lack that specific class articulateness which is expressed in determined, limited, and obtainable goals. The term masses applies only where we deal with people who either because of sheer numbers, or indifference, or a combination of both, cannot be integrated into any organization based on common interest, into political parties or municipal governments or professional organizations or trade unions. Potentially, they exist in every country and form the majority of those large numbers of neutral, politically indifferent people who never join a party and hardly ever go to the polls.

It was characteristic of the rise of the Nazi movement in Germany and of the Communist movements in Europe after 1930 that they recruited their members from this mass of apparently indifferent people whom all other parties had given up as too apathetic or too stupid for their attention. The result was that the majority of their membership consisted of people who never before had appeared on the political scene. This permitted the introduction of entirely new methods into political propaganda, and indifference to the arguments of political opponents; these movements not only placed themselves outside and against the party system as a whole, they found a membership that had never been reached, never been “spoiled” by the party system. Therefore they did not need to refute opposing arguments and consistently preferred methods which ended in death rather than persuasion, which spelled terror rather than conviction. They presented disagreements as invariably originating in deep natural, social, or psychological sources beyond the control of the individual and therefore beyond the power of reason. This would have been a shortcoming only if they had sincerely entered into competition with other parties; it was not if they were sure of dealing with people who had reason to be equally hostile to all parties.”

pg.311-312, The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, 1951

Hail To The Chief (Of Promotion And Sales)

January 4, 2017

In his introduction to The Culture of the New Capitalism (2006) Richard Sennett reasons out what he imagines will be the subject of his book. “Only a certain kind of human being can prosper in unstable, fragmentary social conditions. This ideal man or woman has to address three challenges.” “The first concerns time: how to manage short term relationships, and oneself, while migrating from task to task, job to job, place to place.” “The second challenge concerns talent: how to develop new skills, how to mine potential abilities, as reality’s demands shift.” “The third challenge follows from this. It concerns surrender; that is, how to let go of the past.” Ostensibly, this will result in “A self oriented to the short term, focused on potential ability, willing to abandon past experience is – to put a kindly face on the matter – an unusual sort of human being.” (pgs. 3-5) A little later on, in describing one of his studies that this work is an outcome of, he reiterates “Here I had the chance to see the cultural ideal of the new capitalism at its most robust, the boom suggesting that this new man/woman would get rich by thinking short term, developing his or her potential, and regretting nothing.” (pg. 7) Fair enough outcome of reasoning, as old as Plato, that usually is composed of ideas and eventually categorizes on ideals.

In a short essay entitled “From Someone to Nobody” (1950) Jorge Luis Borges follows a particular character, warp, or drift of thinking and reasoning. “To be one thing is inexorably not to be all the other things. The confused intuition of that truth has induced men to imagine that not being is more than being something and that, somehow, not to be is to be everything. That fallacy is inherent in the words of the legendary king of Hindustan who renounces power and goes out to beg in the streets: “From this day forward I have no realm or my realm is limitless, from this day forward my body does not belong to me or all the earth belongs to me.” Schopenhauer has written that history is an interminable and perplexing dream of human generations; in the dream are recurring forms, perhaps nothing but forms; one of them is the process described in this essay.”

Borges’ insight informs more than refutes Sennett’s imagining (as Sennett’s “factual” research findings are the “empirical” refutation, the stuff of the book). Though written over a half century ago, it also informs the ever recurring and repetitious “marketing” of the contemporary situation; why it is so necessary for current political leadership to promote and “sell” prosperity futures to an individual subject “oriented to the short term, focused on potential ability, willing to abandon past experience”. After all, if “not to be is to be everything” what need is there for competing alternatives, difference, compromise, or reason itself?

National Conversation

June 3, 2016

“We need to have a conversation about…” race, the opioid epidemic, gun safety, police, income inequality, housing, etc. The list could or would seem incessant, but what is “the conversation”? Of the multiple meanings of the word “support”, the dictionary gives a socially oriented one of “to maintain (a person, family, institution, etc.) with the necessities of existence; provide for”. Today the word seems to have become just another synonym of “purchase” or “buy”. We are asked to support the local vendors at the Farmers Market, or support a local restaurant, or support community service through “shopping” (another synonym of the current use of “support”) at the local thrift store. Like it or not “to maintain with the necessities of existence; provide for” is not at all the same as “buying”, “purchasing” or “shopping” within a competitive capitalist economy. Sure, the end results of maintaining existence may appear to be the same, at least until “provide for” is considered (aka go fund me). “Support” seems to have morphed into “purchase” with the financial meltdown of the Bush presidency, and the “Great” recession implicated by it. But then, George W’s first reaction to 911 was to tell his fellow citizens to go out and buy stuff, a pick up truck or hummer. The roots of its meaning transformation may be deeper than the collapse of Lehman Bros. Like “support”, “conversation” seems likewise to have slid into meaning something not exactly the same as the dictionary definition which implies some kind of “interchange of thoughts, information, etc.” The recently endured national primary contests, as well as the anticipated (and loathed) general election campaign, give evidence of another meaning entirely. The financial meltdown of 2008, and the ensuing years of recession filled with lack, brought with it an overabundance of speculative questioning by journalists, scholars, economists, etc. Is capitalism capable of addressing the public needs left over from catastrophes and disasters? Can capitalism, and the market, provide the necessities of housing, food distribution, medical care? People were definitely out of work with their homes in foreclosure and the food pantries emptied. Everyone clamored that there needs to be a national conversation on this. That was 8 years ago. Today we have the harvest of a two party system that has specifically sowed legislation limiting democracy to a choice between only two, over the past century if not more. Recent evidence of this within Ohio was the quick legislative change of third party ballot eligibility during the race for re-election by John Kasich in 2014. The current (and loathed) presidential contest pits a neo-liberal against a “self made” salesman of the virtues of marketing. Neo-liberalism is all about personal choice, and making markets available (and inevitable) in virtually everything, and to everyone. The “liberal” vestiges (if any) are the “virtually everything, and to everyone”, making it appear progressive, concerned with the welfare of all (whether in terms of free trade agreements, meals on wheels or low interest school loans). The “self made” salesman for the virtues of marketing doesn’t disguise his absolute lack of interest “to maintain with the necessities of existence; provide for” the welfare of others. If you can’t afford it, get out. As Newt Gingrich put it so succinctly when he ran for president “take a shower and get a job.” The “self made” salesman phrases it more positively, “We love those who go to work for us.” Both the neo-liberal and the salesman are in agreement over the positivity that must be extended to the electorate (neither willing to diss those who vote), as well as being united in their underlying commitment and dedication to profit. The “interchange of thoughts, information, etc.” concerning matters of social urgency and significance can only be made within the bounds of marketing, business and profit (thoughts about how to profit, business information, etc.). Any “conversation” outside that envelope simply will not pass postal regulation, whether it contributes or not, and is relegated to the dead letter file. Since the financial meltdown of 2008, “conversation” has experienced the same slippage as “support”. “Conversation” is more about “closing the deal” than any “interchange of thoughts, information, etc.” We ought to have a national conversation about that.