Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Systemic Deception and the Breakdown of Civic Trust (3.2.09)

I had a moment of clarity a few years back when suddenly, in an instant I could see bushco as a huge criminal enterprise - masquerading as government.  The knitting together of a war machine, the outsourcing of everything including torture and spying on citizens, the looting of the treasury, enrichment of cronies, perversion of justice, the conscription of every federal department into this criminal enterprise, and the purveying of propaganda as "news" through embedding journalists and crony-experts in every nook and cranny - all worked together to hoodwink and fleece voters.  Now, however, we are all stunned as we see that the same kind of perfidy is endemic in our entire financial system and permeates the very language used to sell everything from hapless political candidates to unjust wars to worthless financial instruments, to students seeking college admission and so on.  We have become a nation where everything and everyone is looked on as a commodity - to be packaged, sold, and consumed.  Where advertising is all.  And psychological research of how to get us to "buy" drives that consumption.  And where systemic deception has become so "normal" that a breakdown of civic trust is all but accomplished.  Were it not for the fact that nearly 80% of the country "under bush" came to feel that things were seriously on the wrong track.

I have come to the conclusion that more than government needs to be reformed.  And more than the financial system needs to be reformed.   It's bigger than politics and bigger than the economy.  Some of it has to do with the misuse of language.   And some of it invades multiple areas of our society.   In varying degrees we see this everywhere.  And it's more longstanding than just the last eight years.  I could feel it during the Clinton administration - both sides triangulating and obfuscating and the citizens getting squeezed in the middle.  I could see it during republican administrations going back to Nixon.  The slights of hand.  The easy lies.  The duping of the public.  But as I say, it's not just government.  Though, like a horrible pustule on the body politic, it certainly came to a head, oozing pus under bush.

If I had to put my finger on one thing, I'd put it on advertising.  I could be wrong about that.  But at the moment that's the common factor that, to me, seems to be holding together a bunch of strings with balloons on the end of each string.  (Maybe somebody could do a better cartoon or image - but I see this bouquet of balloons, each one a segment of our society, all connected, each puffed up by advertising.)   Advertising, together with polling and consumer "testing" - to fine tune the propaganda machines.  Focus groups.  You know exactly what I'm saying.  I've seen churches doing this kind of surveying and planning - to market themselves and "grow" themselves.  Colleges do it.  Individuals seeking admission or seeking jobs now market themselves.  Candidates "test" their messages or their public personnas.   All the fancy financial fluff they sold as sure-bet bonds were packaged and sold this way.  PerfidyFallacy.   Systemic Deception

And you know, it breaks my heart to think that I'm in this field of psychology - a field riven between research and practice, where the first rule of practice is Do no harm but where market research is busy manipulating attitudes and behavior - through the same psychic issues I'm trying to heal.

Now I've laid out my big case.  So let me move to considering some of the areas where all of this operates.  And mind you, I'm positing all of this in theoretical terms.  I'm throwing it out for discussion.  But before I do, let me quote something I once wrote in a comment, related to a concern of Alexis de Tocqueville's back in the 19th century:
Thus, after taking each individual by turns in its powerful hands and kneading him as it likes, the sovereign extends its arms over society as a whole; it covers its surface with a network of small, complicated, painstaking, uniform rules through which the most original minds and the most vigorous souls cannot clear a way to surpass the crowd; it does not break wills, but it softens them, bends them, and directs them; it does not destroy, it prevents things from being born; it does not tyrannize, it hinders, compromises, enervates, extinguishes, dazes, and finally reduces each nation to being nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals of which the government is a shepherd.
Boy am I sorry I bit all this off!  My mother always told me, only serve yourself as much as you can eat.  Then again, I didn't get to fill my plate.  I just looked down - and there it was!   Word inflation.  And grade inflation.  Publish or perish inflation.  Inflation of debt.  Inflation of desire.  Inflation of cronyism.  Gurus selling redemption.  Plastic surgery selling youth.  Make up your own list!  (I'm getting sick...)

Advertising uses images and words.  Sound bites.  Financial whizzes dreamed up jargon and fallacies to sell fake investments.  Political operatives tortured language to prey upon fears, the better to sell wars and torture.  Academics unwittingly wrote articles so filled with word inflation (jargon and abstractions piled on upon another - like houses of cards) that people could no longer follow their arguments and felt hopelessly sidelined from making independent judgments.  Like the Emperor's New Clothes.  Like the description of de Toqueville from above.

Remember that guy who made up a professional paper - that really meant nothing - and got it published in a professional journal?  A physics professor.  You can look it up here:  The original article.   And the article explaining why he did it:
Why did I do it? While my method was satirical, my motivation is utterly serious. What concerns me is the proliferation, not just of nonsense and sloppy thinking per se, but of a particular kind of nonsense and sloppy thinking: one that denies the existence of objective realities, or (when challenged) admits their existence but downplays their practical relevance. At its best, a journal like Social Text raises important questions that no scientist should ignore -- questions, for example, about how corporate and government funding influence scientific work. Unfortunately, epistemic relativism does little to further the discussion of these matters.

In short, my concern over the spread of subjectivist thinking is both intellectual and political. Intellectually, the problem with such doctrines is that they are false (when not simply meaningless). There is a real world; its properties are notmerely social constructions; facts and evidence domatter. What sane person would contend otherwise? And yet, much contemporary academic theorizing consists precisely of attempts to blur these obvious truths -- the utter absurdity of it all being concealed through obscure and pretentious language.

Social Text's acceptance of my article exemplifies the intellectual arrogance of Theory -- meaning postmodernist literary theory -- carried to its logical extreme. No wonder they didn't bother to consult a physicist. If all is discourse and ``text,'' then knowledge of the real world is superfluous; even physics becomes just another branch of Cultural Studies. If, moreover, all is rhetoric and ``language games,'' then internal logical consistency is superfluous too: a patina of theoretical sophistication serves equally well. Incomprehensibility becomes a virtue; allusions, metaphors and puns substitute for evidence and logic. My own article is, if anything, an extremely modest example of this well-established genre.

.... it is important to understand exactly what I did. My article is a theoretical essay based entirely on publicly available sources, all of which I have meticulously footnoted. All works cited are real, and all quotations are rigorously accurate; none are invented. Now, it's true that the author doesn't believe his own argument. But why should that matter? The editors' duty as scholars is to judge the validity and interest of ideas, without regard for their provenance. (That is why many scholarly journals practice blind refereeing.) If the Social Text editors find my arguments convincing, then why should they be disconcerted simply because I don't? Or are they more deferent to the so-called ``cultural authority of technoscience'' than they would care to admit?

In the end, I resorted to parody for a simple pragmatic reason. The targets of my critique have by now become a self-perpetuating academic subculture that typically ignores (or disdains) reasoned criticism from the outside. In such a situation, a more direct demonstration of the subculture's intellectual standards was required. But how can one show that the emperor has no clothes? Satire is by far the best weapon; and the blow that can't be brushed off is the one that's self-inflicted. I offered the Social Text editors an opportunity to demonstrate their intellectual rigor. Did they meet the test? I don't think so.

......why should self-indulgent nonsense -- whatever its professed political orientation -- be lauded as the height of scholarly achievement?

[bold and italics mine]
Shall we refrain from reading the actual, fake article?  An ethical lie if there ever was one?   Ok, thank you!  I just did a focus group and it was unanimous!   But think abut it:  He had woven fancy words into "sentences."  One meaningless phrase after the next.  Paragraph after nonsensical paragraph.  Into a tour de force "breakthrough" article that:  Made.  No.  Sense.  But important people read it and published it.  They took the time to try and parse meaning from nonsense.  Did they think the paper was brilliant but beyond their grasp?  That they were almost able to "see" something there?

Bankers wrote loans in words that people couldn't understand.  They gave money to people earning hardly anything.  But the loans had these signatures on them, you see.  And that meant "something" - I suppose.  And then fancy strategists dreamed up names to call bundles of nonsense.  And then they sold the meaningless jargon (which stood for nothing) for actual money!   And people made commissions from selling "nothing."   And now judges are saying:  Show me the paperwork.  Often they can't even find it!

Somewhere back in the 70's there were too many people seeking jobs as professors.  And so to decide who would get tenure (a chance to say anything you want - just about - and still keep your job), they decided they'd count publications.  It was a way of creating a professional gate-keeping mechanism.  A way to tell the sheep from the goats.  And somehow there was this theory that people who could publish a lot were the good teachers who would be allowed to say almost anything they wanted and still keep their job.   Professor Sokol proved how great that theory was!
Mr. TheraP was a professor.  He taught his classes and he was a wonderful teacher.  But he never did what he saw others were doing.  He used to say:  "Someone has an idea.  So they cut their idea up into 4 or maybe even 10 pieces.  And they publish an article that has maybe a quarter of an idea."  And so on.  He was often frustrated with professional papers that said next to nothing.  He's been working on one project for over 35 years.  Every day he works on it or thinks about it.  But he's never published - because he's not satisfied that he's got it "all."  (That's the other extreme.)

I like a sentence that makes sense.  I like politicians who make sense.  I'd like it if bankers made sense.  And lawyers made sense.  And I like it when professional scholarly papers make sense.  I wish if people didn't really have much to say that they'd admit it.  Or publish questions.  Or at least refrain from writing until they could say something in words and sentences that made sense.

Seems to me that professionals of all types should be forced to write at places like TPM; they should have to put their work "out there" in normal English in a way that's understandable by your average interested reader.  Without jargon.  Using normal everyday words as far as possible.  I realize this could never be a hard and fast rule.  But it should be an aim.  An aim for all good writing.  Of whatever type.  All of it should make sense.   Otherwise, they might merely be playing "language games" - signifying nothing.  If you have to hide behind jargon that should be suspect, absent a very good excuse.

Now sometimes "nothing' or "emptiness" is really what you want to get at.  The value of doing "something" even though it is "nothing."  That's what the guy did who wrote the fraudulent paper.  He had a point to make.  So he spent time writing "nothing."  And Mr. TheraP has published "nothing" despite over 35 years of doing "something."  That's what Lux Umbra Dei  was getting at in that little interchange last week.  There is a way of teaching that is not expository.  It counts on personal interaction.  Or it makes use of stories designed to provoke thinking outside the box.  This was originally going to be a blog about Teaching Tales in various traditions.  I've collected them for a long time.  Sufi tales.  Zen tales.  Hasidic Tales.  Wisdom of the Desert Fathers.  Tales by Chuang Zu.  Even some modern versions.  Parables fit into that category.  Professor Sokol's parody is of this type.  You can google them or look them up at your favorite book site.  These stories promote a different kind of thinking.  A thinking I believe we need right now.  Something to help us look beneath what's going on.   The stories poke fun at our normal consciousness, our normal habits or expectations.  They question mores and rituals and customs.  They make you question.  And boy do we need that now! 

One of the teaching stories I happened across, while considering writing this blog was about how you could tell someone was working hard:  by how many shavings ended up on the workroom floor.  So here's some of what ended up on the floor:  The Yoo and Bybie memoes.  The Ponzi schemes.  The article by the guy who pursued Madoff in an effort to prove to the SEC that it was impossible to get the kind of returns Madoff was getting.  Students thinking it's ok to cheat and believing that "effort" deserves an A, so they argue with professors over grades.  And how education needs to be reformed, so teaching is emphasized and real teaching which provokes thinking at that.  How civic trust promotes thinking and democracy. And a few of those teaching tales.  I had to cut them all.   



Thera, two words come to mind here.
1) Tragic
2) Flaw
We humans are, I fear, too prone to seek damaging advantage over our fellows for short-term gain. While it may have served us well in prehistoric times, it's outright dangerous in a world peopled by 6 billion plus, once we factor in the inherent damage crowding and deprivation contribute.
Better minds than mine have not suggested workable solutions. I just think that's one real aspect of the problem at hand.
Tragic Flaw. And how to get people to do two things? Think in the long term. And think about your fellow person.
Here's one of the stories I cut out:
I thought it good fortune to go to the Magic Monastery for Christmas. But at the foot of the hill sat a blind beggar, and when I drew near to give him some money, I heard him ask: "Who will lead me into the heart of God?" I couldn't go on. Who would lead him into the heart of God?
I sat down in front of him. I took his hands. "Together," I said. "Together we'll go into the heart of God."
From The Magic Monastery by Theophane the Monk, a monk I met, who is now deceased. A mystic. A Trappist who spent quite some time studying zen.
Tragic Flaw. And how to get people to do two things? Think in the long term. And think about your fellow person.
I think we need to stop saying it's "propaganda" or "advertising" or some external cause - all of those are made by human hands (and minds), and the fault, thus, lies "...not in our stars, but in ourselves."

Are we ultimately perfectible? I don't have that answer, although I'm usually misanthropic enough to think not.
Sometimes I'm glad I'm getting older and have no direct descendants. (Sometimes not.)
So you're sort of a determinist here?
Because at one point in the blog I mention "flaws" and I'm referring to "issues" that people have - and how advertising exploits that. Just as you mention below. That someone wanted Claritin but didn't even know why. I'd call that some kind of inner need the person has that the advertiser was trying to touch. Sort of like pushing buttons.
Or could you explain better how you're seeing this if I'm failing to understand your point. Otherwise it sounds a bit like "Eve and the apple."
What I'm seeing here is "It's propaganda." as a means of explaining things, as though it's the language itself, and my comment is only that we are the ones who use the language - we have that flaw within ourselves that makes us both susceptible to such manipulations and inclined to employ them as a means to an end, however desirable - or not. And that it's ultimately not the language, however crafted, it's the humans both employing it and falling for it - us.
I just don't think "fixing" the language we use is going to solve this. The problem is not what we say or do. The problem is us. Or within us. The language is the symptom.
That is correct. But some of us are confronting this and others are purveying it and in between you have folks who are more or less susceptible. So, at least to me, it behooves us to consider what exactly underlies the problems. Just to say "it's us" doesn't really get us very far. I'm looking at what I see "us" doing - in order to look for ways to counter that.
What do you propose, based on your analysis?
I wish I had something to suggest. I see the problem - the solution, well, unless you want me "reprogramming" human nature (you don't - trust me) I have none.
I trust you - but not that far. :)
Just reread your first comment, Old Grouch. And I find it - like fine wine - getting better over time.
Good, good, good. It is a systemic problem. We must remember that we live in a democracy and 30% of our electorate will follow rush anywhere.
Obey has a difficult but interesting take on mind control today.
Donal using irony, hit me kind of hard. Copyright laws interfering with freedom of speech, expression. Some blogger took 25% of some article/column and wrote about it. The blogger was attacked for copyright infringement.
If we cannot have fair comment, we are lost. We need to examine what is written, line by line by line. Good or evil.
Propaganda is propaganda is propaganda. That is what advertising is. It becomes so hilarious at times.
Take our drug you will ....(lose weight, make money, have better bowels, think more clearly, get rid of toxins, see Jesus...) BUT some have experienced headaches, bleeding bowels, heart failure, warts, dizziness, sleepwalking, lost testicles, loss of feeling in the extremities...
However stupid it sounds, people GO TO THEIR doctors and beg for prescriptions for this crap.
At least oxycontin gets you high.
If I hear this tsunami propaganda from some investing scheme once more I swear I will throw my television out the window. Ok I will not probably do that because I kind of like Life and Men From Mars.
Good post. In Anthropology there are the functionalists. Every portion of society is reflected in every other portion.
The Kinship system is reflected in the legal system and the economic system...

You made me laugh. But you point out that anthropologists know these things!
Ok.... How could anybody have predicted that?
True story: When the Claritin spots first began to run, some years back, a friend told me this: "I want that stuff and I don't even know what it does!"
I have saved myself a lot of aggravation (and probably a lot of money) by informing my doctor that I will NOT take any prescription drug that is advertised on TV.
We must remember that we live in a democracy and 30% of our electorate will follow rush anywhere.
Come on, dick. This isn't even close to true, so it doesn't help move things forward when you frame the discussion as such. Roughly thirty percent of the electorate is registered republican, of that roughly half "approve" of Limbaugh according to polls. That would be about 15 percent of the electorate and of those, only a small percentage would actually "follow rush anywhere" that idiot decided to go.
Our problems are systemic, but hardly the dastardly deed of a small band of small-minded and backward Limbots. The sharks who have been nibbling on our hindquarters the last four decades have both red and blue scales.
"Our problems are systemic" That's all that we need to be said. You are right that we can't blame one tiny fraction, one symptom so-to-speak. For some reason while reading TheraP's exhortation about the fake article and author's explanation, I kept thinking about the Tao te Ching. The first time I read it, I thought it was the biggest "saying nothing" bunch of crap I'd ever read. But now I think differently. Yes, things like "The 30 spokes of a wheel all join at the centre. The usefulness of the wheel lies in the emptiness of its hub." are vague, but at least there is meaning there.
If you've ever read "The Book Thief", you can understand how defining and owning words can unite an entire nation under false pretenses (in this case, Hitler and Germany). Here, now we have different groups distorting and obfuscating, "think tanks" is an apt term I guess.
I don't see easy solutions or even an easy way to define the problem. How can unite our varying point of views with clarifying language?
Here's another perfect example of how bankers using words are concocting messages that make no sense or are supposed to manipulate you into thinking that what has happened shouldn't have happened and so why don't we just pretend it hasn't happened?
Also linking to Obey's post, since many of the articles are tuning in to free-will vs "determinism" or influence. And how people think about those things. Just for the record, in case I need to go back to any of this:
Here's a post I made on another thread today, somehow it seems to fit here too although it may seem a little off subject I think it fits:
"I have to say what is probably obvious but I'll say it anyway. Creationism is about making a religious narrative true and thus the existence of God, true. The existence of God is a necessary part of establishing power and status. Those who are rich or thru other means hold high status in society, contrary to conventional wisdom, do not "earn it". They are allowed to have such status by those around them. Earning high status is an illusion of semantics. High status is allowed by society itself thru narratives about Gods and the "order" of the universe, which operates much like a machine in these narratives. It is both logical and reasonable but not truthful, and I think there in lies the difference.
Capitalism and free market ideology is another narrative that operates the same way, with a similar function. The narratives help people accept the social hierarchy. Its and easy system for the intelligent and unscrupulous to manipulate. So the next time someone tells you they are rich because they deserve to be and you are poor because you deserve to be, they are engaging in a logical fallacy of having earned their status. We in the west did away with "divine right of kings" after gross abuse of those with such status. Stop falling for false narratives about the order of the universe. It's time we did away with the high status of the ultra wealthy, under whose abuse we are suffering once again."
Sounds like you're suggesting that high status allows certain groups to control the way language is used - to benefit themselves. Regarding religion, I would suggest that it's not the existence of god per se, but the type of god they may want to endorse. It's like endorsing a product. So, god forbid you think for yourself and believe in a God who wants you to be you - instead of following the pre-ordained status-enhancing order, which maintains the status quo (god).
Thanks for taking the time to put this together Thera. I can understand how you felt vis a vis the feeling of biting off more than you could digest. It's a subject ripe for exploration. Your pointing to advertising is appropriate, as a delivery medium for the 'message', but as you say, it goes much deeper than that. At some point we as citizens and consumers of goods, services, and 'ideas' bear the responsibility for surrendering critical thought when our decisions are made in haste. Which brings to mind the thought of how so many of our lives have changed over the past century, creating a 'busy' lifestyle which virtually precludes conscientious analyses of the minutia of everyday existence and the query as to whether that too is manupulated by design. Keep them in debt to the company store and hungry. At which point our 'consumption' of the message, be it an Idea or an Ipod transfers economic power to the corporation or ideology underlying our choice. Therein lies the economic force that relentlessly bombards any media rich society with the message du jour, sadly, and ultimately not so different from de Tocqueville's quote from over 150 years ago, (thanks for the link to Bwak's blog- there was a fiesta here yesterday, and the internet cafe was closed). I've rambled enough here. Again, well done.
Yes, how have people drowned out critical thought or even missed the mark when it comes to decision-making?
Or how many have used consumption as a kind of drug?
I'm asking a lot of questions. But I'm not looking for simplistic answers. Because we need to make changes. And where are those choice points, those moments of freedom, when we can go one way or another?
Rhetorical questions. Not aimed at anyone in particular.
Keep them in debt to the company store and hungry.
Yep, Steinbeck nailed a lot with those few chapters. Advertising and marketing are fairly new. What isn't, is using celebrity to push a narrative, and that narrative tends to be in service of the well-off at the expense of the er, mob.

We need a new Steinbeck. And please, dear god, let it not be me!
But yes, we need new writers who can detail the abuses that have taken place here, the near PTSD abuse that some have taken here. And we can only think of the people now desperate for $8/hr jobs, $12/hr jobs. People who may have been supervisors but now are just glad to have work and some kind of benefits.
Where are the writers to document the atrocities, as Atrios would say?
I hope Sleepin' can weigh in....
Excellent observations! And thus does it not make perfect sense for the oft-berated slogan "Tune in, turn on, drop out!" to have terrified the established power structure?
Every problem being discussed in this entire post is a logical outgrowth of an economic system and ethos run amok that has at it's core greed and exploitation. The only way to return to a more human way of life is to reject this system and break it's back by rejecting it once and for all. Unless we do so, like an efficient "super bug" virus it will adapt and morph and reassert itself in the body of society, making us sick again and keeping us that way. Eventually, the virus will kill us. But we are not yet terminal.
The most powerful political movements in history were those begun and inspired by M. K. Gandhi. At the very root of his rebellion was the plain idea of noncooperation which is a very simple concept to grasp. But ost diets are very easy to grasp yet people fail to follow them because it is much harder to do the right thing than to understand it. By maintaining the focus on noncooperation he was able to achieve peacefully what no army could have achieved. Every people's movement that followed this method and stuck with it has emerged victorious in the end.
Noncooperation in the context of Gandhi's struggle in India meant first and foremost self sufficiency on the part of the Indian people and withdrawal of support from the British capitalist system which depended upon their support and not the other way around. He realized this and got millions of common people to understand that they didn't need the Raj or his system.
Gandhi created a word for his approach: satyagraha. It has a number of possible meanings, but Gandhi himself preferred "love force." He liked to call the implementation of satyagraha through acts of noncooperation "the nonviolence of the strong." I am absolutely convinced that much of what plagues our society and the world today can be effectively reversed through the application of satyagraha and noncooperation. Easier said than done I know, but that is my belief.
The first step on the journey toward human liberation is, as Marcuse would point out, is to recognize the particular conditions of oppression you are living under. He called it "the consciousness of servitude." Walt Whitman put it succinctly back in his day. He wrote:
"We do not ride the railroads. The railroads ride on us."
I'm with you on satyagraha.
And as you so well point out, the first step is recognition. And like most "lightbulbs" first you "see" then you "see better" and so. The force you have to work against is old learning and old habits. New learning is not so hard. Unlearning is the hard part.
Yours words take me to a Bob Dylan song, It’s Alright Ma…
“Pointed threats, they bluff with scorn
Suicide remarks are torn
From the fool's gold mouthpiece
The hollow horn plays wasted words
Proves to warn
That he not busy being born
Is busy dying.”
“Advertising signs that con you
Into thinking you're the one
That can do what's never been done
That can win what's never been won
Meantime life outside goes on
All around you.
You lose yourself, you reappear
You suddenly find you got nothing to fear
Alone you stand with nobody near
When a trembling distant voice, unclear
Startles your sleeping ears to hear
That somebody thinks
They really found you.”

Amazing how singers and poets can get things so right. :)
And one more, supremely relevant:
"Money doesn't talk, it swears..."
One of my pet subjects is the fragility of the human mind: it's just a squishy organ wrapped in naked flesh buffeted around by slight changes in the environment, in hormone levels, in misfiring neurons, in the minds around it, and all too often by its own self-deception.
One of the ways it deceives itself is through theory. In large part theories are good - they are part of how we come to understand the world. But it has its darker side. Here the 'abstraction' of what constitutes theoretical ideas is part of the problem - it gets detached from reality. Another part of the problem is the fact that very often we work within the framework of the theory - playing along to its rules - without realizing that is what we are doing. The notion of the 'free market' has been so successful over two hundred years in lifting standards of living in the western world, that we've exported it as a model into all spheres of life. Academia is a 'market' of ideas - ideas to be 'cashed out', and idea-makers to be bought and sold, marketed and advertised. In journalism, it's the commerce of 'news', 'stories', and 'narratives'. And somehow all the different fields of social activity, operating with this model, are supposed to achieve their social purpose - education, scientific understanding, an informed public discourse - not thanks to the individual's sense of responsibility for what he is doing, but thanks to the gentle nudge of some invisible hand. All the individual is required to do is look to his own self-interest sitting on the tip of his nose, and the rest will take care of itself.
All this is a Theory. One which does not work very well. And one which we worked within, not because we endorsed it, but because it was just there in the background, presupposed. And one which needs to be deconstructed - or just torn down. It absolved the individual of all consideration for the bigger picture, of his place in what is a social collaborative effort to move forward together. It was assumed, or asserted at some point I imagine, that Society would move forward best if each individual within it stopped to be concerned for, responsible for the community's well-being, and instead just acted like a mindless cell who's self-concerned actions would somehow jell with those of others to form 'the greater good'.
So rather than 'perfidy' and 'deception', though they have played their part, I'd like to see the lessons of the present crisis to go a bit further than the punishment of the 'elite', and get us all to be a bit less mindless and a bit more mindful of both ourselves and others.
anyhow that's as close as I can get to a 'general' theory of what has happened. But then I've learned to be careful with theories...
Man is a theory-making individual. That is so clear from Piaget's work. We explain, we revise on the basis of learned info and our own experience, and as Piaget so well recognized - first assimilation, then accommodation. Or other words could be used. But the problem of theory, as we both realize, is the reification of what one generates as a "working model" - e.g. the map becomes the territory.
I agree with you - and others - that we are the deciders, we as a society. Nevertheless the obfuscation of sense has also occurred, deliberately, on the part of some. In government. In finance. And sometimes in advertising.
Some will surely pay for crimes committed. And all of us have paid and are paying for the fall-out of all of this. At the same time we can all become better "consumers" of information. We can demand less opaque or obfuscated information. And we can insist on prosecution of those who used obfuscating and deliberately subversive language to supposedly authorize torture as legal, etc.
I'm hoping, as you say, for more "mindfulness." That's laudable!
May I recommend: "Abstraction without disconnection"?
You have two theories. One is your own theory, the other is a target Theory, something vaguely like Free Market Libertarianism if I read your comment right.
"One of the ways it deceives itself is through theory."
That itself represents a theory, your theory of deception and theory. I trust you are not so caught up in it yourself! :-)
"absolved the individual of all consideration for the bigger picture"
I don't buy that theory of yours. What FML might do is to place the focus on enlightened self-interest, make that the foreground. But that in no way denies the value of the background, it simply leaves it for other considerations. The problem is rather that not all actors are fully enlightened in their pursuit of their interests, criminals and fools do exist.
So I find your theoretical analysis deceptive if not outright perfidious itself. No offense, just reflecting back to you what I can...
Hmmm, lightning just struck nearby, first time this winter that I can recall.
Oh I agree, criminals and fools do exist. All I'm saying is that the theory plays an important role. And FML, not in Smith's version, but in the Mandevillian version handed down to Gordon Gecko and co, it sits in the background dulling everyone's moral senses.
Just googled the Mandeville:
Gordon Gecko
but I know what you meant!
lol. So that is what is become of him... :0)
It's Gekko, not Gecko... if you are talking about the Wall St. character! :-)
See - I didn't know that. Yet I still have that movie imprinted on my brain for some reason. thanks!
I don't believe I ever saw his name spelled out in the movie, so it's a natural phonetic move, esp. given the GEICO gecko ads these past years. I found the restaurant link when I went to check...
So rather than 'perfidy' and 'deception', though they have played their part, I'd like to see the lessons of the present crisis to go a bit further than the punishment of the 'elite', and get us all to be a bit less mindless and a bit more mindful of both ourselves and others.
Nah. Let's just keep it simple. Punish the elite. Then we can all back to sleep, er, work...
I do not say it enough because I feel it is understood. But you make me laugh sometimes when you pretend to be self educated without discussing all of your university degrees. And yet both of us know, University just opens door so that we are enabled to keep learning.
"We can demand less opaque or obfuscated information. And we can insist on prosecution of those who used obfuscating and deliberately subversive language to supposedly authorize torture as legal, etc."
Good blogs today. I keep playing with my comic book.
But I award you the Dayly Knightly line/paragraph/comment/blog of the day at TPMC from all of me to all of you.
Thank you, dd. Just when I was about to throw in my theory-generating towel! :)
Advertising. Propaganda. Either one fits. It boils down to being manipulated.
Instincts that humans have, where ever they come from, are slowly being eroded by advertising or propaganda to do the 'other' thing instead of what instincts tell you to do. If it smells bad, why are you still standing there sniffing it? Oh, the government said the scientists said that it was safe to sniff it and to pay no attention to the rash on your neck. Oh, well, as long as the authorities said it was ok....
We are being manipulated into complacency by admen. Bloated language is one tool.
Thinking for one's self is fast becoming an X-sport....only the daring try it.

Also...Alexis de Tocqueville kicks butt.
Interesting and good post, TheraP.
You write so well with tongue in cheek! I think I'm gonna go with the instinct to laugh! Instead of those who might tell me to go sit in the corner instead. :)
Well, there used to be these little things called "truth in advertising laws." In other words, Campbells couldn't add marbles to a bowl of their canned soup to make it look chocked full of vegetables and a big mac had to look like the thing you bought, (which they invariably do not!) You couldn't use mashed potatoes to sell ice-cream, even if it photographed better. IOW, laws to ensue public trust was not abused, that what an advertiser told you had at least a minimum of validity. The Claritin commercial was selling happiness, not allergy relief. 25 years ago they could NOT have done that.
That these laws have been ignored and eroded is pretty obvious.
There used to be laws to protect people from liars, cheats and bunkshooters. We used to expect that people who were paid large salaries--and no where near as large as todays, BTW--got them because they were responsible for the well-being of many others. That our elected officials had to do more than pay lip service to the well being of our society. That part of the fees we paid in taxes and utilities would be used responsibly by professionals whose jobs were to plan for long term and short term needs. If not them, then who?
Can anyone tell me when the wealth and fees and taxes we paid stopped buying those things? Can someone explain to me why I am wrong to be outraged that those I paid, and paid well, to look out for these very things they abdicated, took the money, and made everything MY responsibility? Sorry, this meme don't fly. It's utter nonsense. I don't hold others responsible for a poster I create communicating it's intent correctly. It's absurd to think I would. This is in effect what I have been hearing. The bank failures are MY fault. For being naive enough to believe that the fees I gave to a financial advisor were to protect my interest, not to rob me. To think that the rising oil and electric fees I paid were being used on maintaining infrastructure and building new capacity rather than invested in the so-called stock market, which is nothing more than a glorified roulette wheel. That it is politicians jobs to look after their constiuents. Silly me.
I'm no pollyanna, but the world was a better place without MBAs and Marketing. It is intolerable to me to hear that having faith that people should have to do their jobs is something that I shouldn't expect. I understand I have been lied to, abused, and used.
I recall during Katrina, maybe on a bbc news program, how the US was described as a country that no longer cared for it people. That's what you're describing, I think. The breakdown of something that people would usually expect from govt and social institutions.
Yeah, it's bigger than trust even. I'm spittin' mad, Thera, and I'm not the only one.
Even driving to work, sometimes I listen to the radio because NPR won't tune in. There used to be advertisements for car dealers, hamburgers, sales at big stores, restaurants. Know what I hear lately? Ads for debt negotiation, Bail bonds, Gold buyers, Anger Management.
Yes. Anger Management. It makes me even madder.
Hard to believe, I know.
The worse and worse this economy gets, the more scary in way. Mr. TheraP and I have concluded it is sane to feel scared. And it's sane to feel anger too. Actually anger is a better way to feel in some sense. When you feel scared, it's a helpless feeling. Anger at least gives the illusion you could do something. Even if it's just throw a fit. But there's less helplessness in anger. I'm more scared for my elderly parents actually. And I think I feel anger on behalf of society and those who are losing the most.
Anger and fear also have a downside. I was reading about the unfolding mess in Ukraine yesterday. If that country implodes, it will send this economic problem into a much bigger orbit. I guess that's where my fears are at the moment. And your point, language, is multiplied there too by their strain of East vs. West with financial meltdown thrown in for good measure.
Good points! Yes, in unstable societies or situations, anger and fear can be volatile.
There used to be advertisements for car dealers, hamburgers, sales at big stores, restaurants. Know what I hear lately? Ads for debt negotiation, Bail bonds, Gold buyers, Anger Management.
Welcome to Pottersville. We serve hard drinks for men who want to get drunk fast.
Thera, my brain is currently bruised, but alert enough to know that you have hit on something essential here. I will reply, even if after the bell. Thank you for this.
After the bell..... my brain is fried for sure!
Sentences that make sense at a glance, make sense because they appeal to (invoke or evoke) your prejudices. You "already know" what is being said. And the sentence has a marginal tendency to reinforce your prejudices.
Sentences which don't quite make sense until you reflect on them, these might teach you something. Something about yourself and your world, at once. And then you have a new prejudice, maybe you even think you know something new!
How sentences can make sense is a study at the edge of nothing you can imagine. We can model this via language as two kinds of nothing, as your blog notes explicitly if in different language. Sokal's paper said a lot but meant nothing. Hubby has said nothing in search of a lot (or at least some). If I get the story.

"Doubt is clearly an enemy, as it usually is when trying to disseminate a belief that is contrary to human experience." - Orlando at TPM

But yes, when it comes to nothing, there is a bit of The Emperor's New Clothes which goes on in polite society.
We have come to believe that capitalism is a model for society instead of a theory of economics. Amazingly, it has been the masters of the tools of capitalistic theory that have convinced us to make a capitalistic society.
That is a profound statement there. Thanks for adding that.
I jumped into your ongoing stream of posts with your title “RIP: Consumer Economy.” I’ve been beating my little drum to the tune of “It’s Bigger Than We Think.” Well here I go again.
First I just discovered that a far more accomplished and able writer than I has for a long time been saying what I’ve been saying. I first read him today but I think I could be convicted of plagiarism without much trouble. His name is James Howard Kunstler. In a recent article Consumerism is dead: Can Obama lead us to a downscaled lifestyle, he offers this opening line:
”The public perception of the ongoing fiasco in governance has moved from sheer, mute incomprehension to goggle-eyed panic as the scrims of unreality peel away revealing something like a national death-watch scene in history's intensive care unit.
Next, I have tried to keep a smile on my comments and so I’ve said things like “...I become more and more certain each day that the current public discussion is just writing more dialogue for the dead parrot sketch. The parrot is dead.” Regrettably the current situation is more like a hospital and less like a pet store. You say “Civic trust” and discuss the corruption of language. While I respect the intelligence of the comments here I feel obliged to beat my little drum. You asked the other day, tongue in cheek I’m sure, what if everything is fixed and we don’t have anything to complain about any more. Ha ha. But what if this discussion is correct? What if we loose our civic trust? Then all of those posts by experts at TPM will be unreadable because we have lost faith in the integrity of the discourse. And you and I will be exchanging frugal recipes and ideas about how to grow tomatoes in cold climates.
Last, what will be the new morality? I have a first response. There is an old Latin aphorism “Honore et Labore,” honor and labor. Translated it is a recommendation toward a life of honor and hard work. I really liked what Quinn Esq said the other day:
”My mental images for how I see things working best are different now. I see my father, the consummate farmer. Attentive, flexible, creative, tending, understanding timing, gentle, willing to graft one tree onto another, aiming for growth, learning, life. And I see ecologies, the mix changing over time, dealing with and growing through devastating events, cycles of energy and nutrients, plants shading each other out and opening spaces for others, successions and competitions and cooperation. And I see art. Which was the hilltop a friend of mine took me to 20 years ago, showed me the view, and said, "You'd like it here. But you need to learn to leave more room. More room for others to come in, and create WITH you. Forget the intellectual swordsman thing, where the aim is to find their weakest point, and slay them as swiftly as possible. If you want growth, you need to leave room."
Honore et Labore.

We may all need to read the Rule of St. Benedict, the guideline for Benedictines monks, written in the 4th century, I believe. Ora et Labora (work and prayer was his motto) shows up there. And how to have a community life. I'm not recommending we all become monks, but we may need to be looking for some timeless guidelines as we smash into this new world that seems to be rushing towards us at faster speeds every day.
I too, Larry, would like work for the best we humans can be, but to do that we may need to examine the worst we have been.
Actually Benedict did not intend to create a religious order. His was an entirely pragmatic exercise in social organization and, as you say, is well worth a reread.
And Jesus never intended to start a church....
Yea, that St. Paul sure knew a franchise opportunity when he saw one.
What a torn man! He was hit over the head and inspired and some of his writing is mystical. Then he just couldn't stop himself from berating everybody - as you say - in the franchise.
Thanks for the Kunstler link. Somebody else mentioned him the other day. Unfortunately, when multiple people are writing about the same dire thing, it usually means there's a convergence of views forming.
"Among other things, contraction means that all the activities of everyday life need to be downscaled including standards of living, ranges of commerce, and levels of governance." -- Kunstler
That is only one possible meaning, and it's not necessarily the best one, the one to work for.
What I think is true behind it is that what we call government is a parasite on economic activity. Sometimes it's symbiotic, as when we have good regulations well-enforced, and sometimes it helps build dams or highways. But it seems clear to me that the government apparatus is a monkey on the back of the economy and it is the most at risk. People can "downscale" and survive at subsistence levels. Companies can close down or dissolve. But the government apparatus (and all the government employees are included here) depends on taxes. Subsistence provides no tax base, unless we return to the horrors of a neo-feudal state. The government can die while people can get along in poverty.
So current efforts to keep the economy going involve a significant amount of conflict of interest for the government apparatus.
While "subsistence" might seem extreme, it's intended to illustrate with stark contrast the nature of a "deflationary spiral" left unchecked. We do, so far, having borrowing power at reasonable interest rates.
It can be argued that we need to take the confused bull by the horns and UPscale both consumption and production. This is one part of Going Green -- spend a lot of capital and labor now to build a better infrastructure for the future. And it's behind the idea of the "stimulus" bill which is sad to say not much of a stimulator (better ideas are out there) even if the spending will help slow the downward spiral.
It would cost future wealth, but it might also build more potential for future wealth so that a future downscaled "non-consumerism" society could flourish far from the poverty level for most.

It is apt that you point to "advertising" in relationship to disastrous policy. As I recall, the Bush White House engaged in the "permanent campaign" and selected opportune times to "roll out" policies - like a new product.
Once upon a time, advertising was telling people about a product. However, with the "success" of industrialization, soon the problem became not enough consumption. So advertising switched to creating consumers rather than product information. (Not mine, but a summation from a cool video called "The Ad and the Ego.")
Also from that video was the switch from approaching people as thinkers to reactors - and that came straight from propaganda studies of the time. In other words, the assumption being that people are inherently irrational and can be moved by appealing to them "in ways they are not aware." Hence, modern advertising is a form of propaganda - and certainly a lot of politics is.
The other component, as noted in TheraP's quote of Alan Sokal above, is the transformation of the dialog (and also related to Zeno_of_Citium bringing up creationism) is the blurring of "opinion," "belief," and provable fact (science). In fact, I believe that one of the manifest functions of the creationism movement is to undermine the concept of science and reality. When merged with the neo-conservative attack on science, everything becomes a matter of belief or opinion. I see this in my classes all the time. Many students (and the average age of students at my college is 36) do not know the difference between opinion/belief and scientific theory.
My point to the rather lengthy aside above is that when everything becomes a matter of opinion, there is no longer any solid ground to stand on.
And that leads us back to advertising. When you reshape the world to opinion rather than reality or fact, and you can manipulate opinion, then you can redefine the world.
AND we have watched this happen over and over again.
Thank you for expressing several things far better than I did or could. And for confirming some of my suspicious. And for extending the links between these things to the lack of firm ground to stand on, due to the sense that things are just opinions (and thus fluff as I put it).
Advertising aside, facts and acts have different objectivities. The "solid ground" of one is not the solid ground of the other. But this is reality, not advertising, I'm talking about.
In terms of deception: Facts deceive acts, and acts deceive facts, so to speak systemically.
It's not advertising in the sense of Madison Avenue. The core is closer to the notion of promotion. Advertising promotes. But in chess one also promotes a pawn, and suddenly you have a queen. There is self-promotion, a promotion at work, and working for a cause whether one evangelizes or registers voters. The world of promotion is the world of morality, where acts change the facts.
Is it deception in the ordinary sense?
TheraP comes close -- it's bigger than politics and economics. But it's also bigger than language. It's about wisdom and will, and to some extent intelligence as per:
"Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language" - famous "philosopher"
I would agree that we are talking about something much more than deception. A framework of "deceit" has been created. It is a social construction aimed at framing the world, events, and our lives, in very specific ways.
So well put.
If I accept your definition of framing, I still don't get the 'deceit' frame you have framed for yourself here. Got some particulars?
As far as I know, you're saying that we posters at TPM are engaging in framing the larger debate as 'deceit', an attempt to steal minds and hearts away from important stuff perhaps. Or maybe you mean this is all just bullshit, so let's have fun with it.
Or maybe you're vaguely describing Bush&Co, and many other politicos.
Can you flesh it out a bit, as it applies in your thinking about this thread?
My comments regarding deceit and social construction were in reference to the corporate media - not to the discussion at TPM - or on this post.
Examples are numerous:
Over a decade of presenting "uncertainty" about global warming while that perspective reflected only about 2% of scientific opinion. The justification for presenting this perspective more frequently than what 98% of the scientific community believed? They were being "fair and balanced."
Bush administration - the United States does not torture. How to say that with a straight face? Define torture as anything short of actual death.
Advertising - pushing drugs that make one's life better, then speed spinning side effect worse than what the drug is for - including death. All done with uplifting, fun pictures and bouncy music.
The petroleum industry ads that say there is a decade worth of oil and gas to heat x number of homes and x number of automobiles, but that is only roughly 1/3 of the existing homes and autos in the country.
Clean coal ads.
And yes, much of what I have seen here at TPM is indeed engaged in social construction - changing to a broader frame that examines the intricacies and complexity of the relationships between the world, our lives, and our perceptions of same.
I definitely do not feel that our endeavors are bull shit. I imagine most of us do not have time in our lives for that.
I can see plenty of 'deceit' here at TPM. It's a microcosm of sorts and with a bias.
I guess your frame works for you somehow, but I find it superficial and biased. So I have to wonder at your bias in choosing that frame (and you chose it, even as TheraP presented a similar frame as a seed for your choice). Yes, Bush misled. Yes, some media outlets are biased one way while others have different bias. Framework? I don't get it.
"A framework of "deceit" has been created."
Your statement seems deceitful to me, itself. It describes lip service in a way which pays lip service to the issues involved. Did you intend it to exemplify that way?
Hi eds,
I don't know if you are genuinely interested and you have a brusque communication style, or if you are trying to be provocative. I will assume the former.
First, my sociological background is showing. "Social construction" is an explicit concept within sociology that refers to the ways in which a group - or a society - comes to a general agreement on what things mean, how things work, etc.
The way that I was using this concept in relation to the framing statement, was that the corporate media (in part) creates a framework of meaning and interpretation which is deceitful in that it DOES serve specific interests and shapes message and delivery within that "framework."
Further, while you asked for examples, and I offered some, the social construction is not one ad here, or one statement or policy there. Particularly in the media, it is the synergy of all that is presented.
If you feel that I am being deceitful, then that is certainly your prerogative. I thought I was participating in a dialog.
I don't make judgments like that (you being deceitful) until the evidence is quite clear and then I say so (if I come to that conclusion).
It's probably both parts. I would like to provoke or evoke a "better" response as part of deeper dialog. I don't intend to troll. I don't always couch my comments in the most refined way. And I'm hardly graceful in the usual sense, so if you find my comments rough, maybe they are clumsy.
What I'm not getting is how framing things that way ('deceit') is optimal. It may suit your personal preferences but it strikes me poorly, unless the 'system' of "systemic deception" is within each of us, not "out there". That is, we participate in deceiving ourselves, and in an important way. Otherwise I just see trash talk about other people's trash talk, as being what you are doing and describing.
I proposed 'promotion' as the general frame of interest in place of 'deception'. You offered 'deceit' in return. I don't get it.

No big deal...
I think that we each have something specific in mind and intent, and for some reason we are not making sense to each other. Your interpretation of "promotion" is clearly different from mine. My interpretation of "deceit" in this context is definitely different from yours. Different enough that you have judged me and called me a liar - or someone intentionally trying to deceive - at least that is what I get out of your comments. To me "deceive" means to intentionally lie, or to convey partial information in an attempt to obfuscate and persuade - just to be perfectly clear.
For you, this is "No big Deal." For me, who is on the receiving end of your judgment, it is not a "big deal," but it is significant. I don't see where further attempts at trying to explain what I mean is helpful as we are talking at cross purposes.
Thank you for the attempt to get some clarity. Perhaps my attempts made sense to someone else.

No, I specifically repudiated your insinuation that that judgment was made by me. That makes you an outright liar when you say I did make that judgment. Therefore it follows that ARE here to deceive.
There is no further clarity to be had between a truth teller and a liar, beyond that point. Perhaps you made a mistake or misread. If so, I'm willing to backtrack with you to work it out.
Ok. Now I am totally confused.
Here is an excerpt of your comments that lead me to the conclusion I arrived at:
1 -
I guess your frame works for you somehow, but I find it superficial and biased. So I have to wonder at your bias in choosing that frame
2 -
Your statement seems deceitful to me, itself.
3 -
I don't make judgments like that (you being deceitful) until the evidence is quite clear and then I say so (if I come to that conclusion).
Which by this time I had interpreted as judgment already made.
You say that:

No, I specifically repudiated your insinuation that that judgment was made by me.
If that was what was meant by comment 3 above, then that was DEFINITELY not the way that I interpreted it - and why I responded as I did.
Yes, do you don't read well, one way to deceive yourself. And you selectively choose excerpts while ignoring relevant others, another mechanism of deceit.
Whatever. I'm not persuaded that you're serious about anything expect promoting deception here, sorry.
This post rings the bell for me, Thera. Because in addition to analyses of the banks or individuals' roles or parties, we need to ascertain just how far the rot has penetrated. There's no sense bullshitting ourselves, now that the storm has hit, that the rot will be spared. Some different "takes."
Take 1. Why do we insist on chasing down whether or not a POLITICIAN has lied... and yet we accept systematic, all day everyday, flagrant lying from business. Both are public persons, and yet, we insist on digging out all the details of the politicians when they put together a "campaign," and we fact check. We analyse it for spin, how closely it hews to their track records, we look at subliminal messages in ads... for one type of marketing campaign and not another.
Take 2. Our corporations argue that they are due certain Constitutional rights as a PERSON. They achieved this in the US, in part by arguing under the 14th Amendment. Ok, since apparently they don't want to be our slaves, we have to accept these great corporations as our neighbors and our fellow citizens. They insist on this. Yet they are neighbors who we have permitted to enter our homes, buy 99% of the available time on TV, and every printed publication, on radio, on billboards, here on the web, everywhere...
Take 3. These neighbors of ours then LIE. They lie and lie and lie and lie and lie and lie and lie. They argue that technically, they're not lying. They observe the codes and don't mislead. What I want to know is - beyond their bare verbal claims to the truth - why they are permitted to enhance their claims with near naked women, national parks and cityscapes and countryside, babies and heavenly gates... things which have no statistically proven connection to them. I would like a statistically valid study of how many of us managed to get Hot Female Model X to fall for them because of their car, jeans, aftershave or beer. If they cannot show a measurable success rate, a proven mechanism, then they are to be considered the same as a drug company whose product generates no obvious results.
Take 4. Imagine that the POPE bought up all our advertising time. Every channel. That he sponsored every TV show. And every 5 or 10 minutes, he'd be rolled out with choirs or on top of heavenly clouds or shown walking over mountains and then... he got to drill home his messages. Imagine he put top dollar into these productions, fabulous music and scenery. Imagine he was allowed to hit every weak point in the human psyche, constantly punching the guilt button, leaning on peer pressure, distorting science, offering you heaven.... day in and day out, a never-ending stream from our dear Pope.
We would not stand, not for one moment, for a situation where a political candidate or a neighbor or a religious denomination was permitted to have such access, such dominance or such repeated deception.
We have made an utter farce of our rights and freedoms, our constitutions. We allowed a group of interests to: (a) Pose as separate individuals, rather than as a common interest with a single, common, underlying message - that happiness, satisfaction, social esteem and psychological fulfillment was to be achieved through the consumption of their product. (b) Pose as persons, taking on roles beyond those originally intended, using a clause created to free the slaves; and (c) To lie in the most repulsive and transparent manner, repeatedly, unendingly, with no mechanism seemingly able to restrain their excesses.
And we PAY for this. Ultimately, we pay the tab for these corporations, they have no other source of revenue, we pay their freight, keep them alive and fed.
Which means, we pay to be lied to.
And then we talk to our children about equality. And the importance of the truth. And babble about sacrifice, and national interest and fairness... and every word is mocked by these messages and these Monsters. And we permit it, and pay for it, and see nothing wrong with it.
We will argue til we're blue about a Nativity scene in front of a municipal office, or a plaque with the 10 Commandments inside city hall... and we literally do not SEE these preachers, this one denomination, the Church of Money, before whom every knee must bow.
I do not wish to hear this Monster speak. Not out of any of Its mouths. No matter the trappings splayed across the hood of Its car, or Its glorious back-up band. Not ever again. Thanks very much, but if I want to hear from It, or see It do tricks, or find out what It can accomplish, I will visit It in Its natural habitat - the Mall.
Amidst all our high-minded babble about rights and freedoms and constitutions, we have unleashed a Monster (as we're now seeing in our economy), something of untold destructive power, something which has wreaked havoc on our wages and communities and families and Earth and on other nations - and yet even now, we permit it to preach at us, 24/7, telling whatever lies it wishes.
I find this to be perhaps the most astonishing thing, of all we have created this past century. What we have created in the corporation, how we seem to have no critical sense - none - of what it is good for, how it should be managed, what rights and limitations it should be given.
And in conclusion, I can guarantee you I could NOT say this in an ad on TV. If someone managed somehow to set up a pirate station to say these things, I can also guarantee that it would produce a massive police and intelligence response, with teams of world class legal critics and suitable small businesspeople rebutting everything... all bought and paid for by that same group. And while we all know this to be true, we didn't hear a word about it this past election.
Monsters Inc., brought to you by us.
Um, it was a case that was brought before the supreme court, Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad (118 U.S. 394 (1886))
Clerical error, maybe. But Corporations have been around for longer than 100 years. They had lifespans. 75 years. Smart, eh?

I'd read a fair bit on corporate personhood years ago, Bwak, and knew that case was central in the US, but when I went to Wiki on it today, they threw in some other cases & a suggestion that that case did not actually clinch the deal. So I figure I'll leave that battle to lawyers (and to you if you're into it!!) Link here.
The thing that gets me on this is that country after country found their own particular legal and political ways to achieve effectively this same end, right? I mean, beyond minor differences, we're as swamped with this nonsense in Canada and elsewhere. But even with these different origins and paths and possible legal resolutions, the staggering thing is that we have ALL allowed this astonishing thing - the corporation - to grow to proportions where it could... EAT everything. Including us. Its voice drowns out everyone else's. It buys our political systems. It tears down not just forests and mountains, but families, towns, nations and now seemingly, entire global economies.
But in response, we get fed debates about how to handle company X... or who is the face at the helm of company Y... or who should bear the cost of what company Z did. They particularize and individualize the problem. YES, I want to see some of these clowns prosecuted. BUT. They will simply replace those faces, if we don't answer some wider questions.
Like... what do we want these human creations to achieve? What room do we want them to have, and where should they be restrained? What particular rights (from that grand "bundle of rights" that apparently makes up property and the corporation) do we wish to see held by this group or that group? How do we wish these creations to interact with our democracy, with our children, through our media, on our cities, in nature? What is a corporation or an enterprise, what is a market, an economy, how do we want to DO this?
And we have almost no LANGUAGE to even have that debate. What the media does is give us this appalling BLACK HAT choice - The State/Nationalization/Socialism vs the WHITE HAT choice - The Market/Private Enterprise/Capitalism. It's pure cartoon.
But as you asked, how long should these things live? Or as Thera and I were asking, how should they be allowed to speak? Or as Genghis got into the other week, what should managers/CEO's be paid and what rights/responsibilities do they have VS shareholders... and communities... and workers? And why should a corporation and it's investors be given "limited liability" and yet no limits on their size, plus freedom to buy politicians and run ads 24/7... but also then get to be bailed out?
I need to shut up now, because the media/political debate on this stuff simply drives me insane. I rant. I mean, right now, it's so bizarre that... CORPORATIONS get to own the airwaves... and then support themselves through payments from other CORPORATIONS... who together produce both the shows and the ads... and then they all pretend to be offering a sensible, open, free and fair debate about... the nature of the CORPORATION?
Does this not appear to anyone to have a bit of a resemblance to Pravda debating the virtues of the the Communist Party?
I'd better go have a brownie before I hammer my face through this keyboard.
Mmmmmmm, brownie. ;-)
quinn, hope you are refreshed after your browney :-)
In many ways, this goes back to my thoughts (and others) in relationship to TheraP's post Is Freedom possible without Justice?. Essentially, that in the United States, "freedom" = the right to consume. Therefore, corporations become the marketers and providers of "freedom." It is sick. It is stupid. It borders on a form of intentional blindness or insanity that so many think that the only threat to "freedom" is the government, when there are other (more pervasive) forms of control.
I think I checked out of Consumer Choice World sometime back around when Jane Fonda (?) put out that "How To Walk" video.
That was it, for me. Done. Most people had lost the ability to sing, to cook, to tell stories, to grow things... and now, to walk.
The more freedom they gave me, the more options and advantages and satisfactions, the less I was able to do.
Teaching adults to walk. Human beings. Home sapiens. Turning a buck from it, and this from someone formally of "the left."
Australopithecus, anyone?
I fell asleep in front of the TV one night, it was in the early '90s, and woke up around 5:30 AM with one of those stair stepper infomercials rolling. In my half sleep, Bruce Jenner started to make sense. Took him 15 minutes or so of blathering on to convince me. It was all becoming clear! I had to have one! Luckily for me my wallet was on the coffee table with the cordless phone. Fortunately I was able to refuse shipment when it arrived. But... That is the state the marketers want you in, half asleep, barely conscious, and susceptible to suggestion. That was during the first Gulf war, when I briefly subscribed to cable TV so I could 'see' what was happening. Lesson learned? Shoot your TV. Good rant above Q.
I remember reading a book about the Manhattan project. It described how a number of small companies, like Allis-Chalmers, became giants during WW II and, after the war, continued to grow owing in part to their established relationship with the national government. In fact relationships between corporations and the national government became intimate during the war and those relationships continued afterwards, creating a lot of the problems we are discussing here. This is not just the military-industrial complex construct. It was an organic reality of WW II that set the stage for that complex and what we see today.
Agreed. There's been a mutually-intertwined relationship between State and Corporation running for centuries. The spheres of individual self-provision of goods, or within families, or by communities have been dramatically eroded (or cannibalized, in some cases) by these Siamese twins. They would find cases where the other spheres were failing, offer support, pass laws, provide subsidized alternatives made by private firms... and after a bit, the whole other sector appears to have been eaten.
I'm not arguing for a return to some mythically wonderful conservative, self-sufficient, past here... but I do think there are enormous gains available through re-claiming and re-strengthening these other spheres. Education being an obvious example, but also self or community energy generation, the internet and so on.
I'm worried that the Corporation has grown to such a degree, and that the State is now so wedded to it - as the present Financial bail-out might appear to confirm - that the idiots at the helm of both "sides" may just take us all down with them.
I remember reading the history of the development of GDP measurements. How this quite particular way things were counted and valued was amplified during the War years to help nationally direct resources toward the war effort. But since then, this quite appalling system has become THE way we measure the satisfaction and health of our "economy." In fact, "the economy" now seems to have become something foreign to us as individuals, families and communities. Teach your child to walk and talk, zero GDP gain. Send them to pre-school to learn? That counts. Add in some cool teaching software from a company, even better.
I think I'm getting grumpier as I age. ;-)
Q I always think of the British East India Company.
But few 'corporate heads' would screw with the Crown.
quinn - you explained my own post to me. You lifted it into the stratosphere with your comment, which should be required reading for every student and every citizen - if we could manage it.
Could I just move over and give you and bwak and Larry and Rowan total credit for this blog? And others too. I have learned so much from the comments.
But yours, quinn, definitely hits the nail right on the head. And since dd, above, awarded this blog his award of the day, I hereby share it with you and with the other wonderful comments so far. (and perhaps more to come)
Just saw this. Thank you Thera. But I'm having fun with everyone throwing down lately, a wide range of posts, great links, critical comments... the whole thing has my brain buzzing in new directions, as well as back into stuff I hadn't looked at in decades. In short, no one person makes a good party, eh?
The only thing that's suffering is work! ;-)
But special thanks for taking the time to post up, which then allows everyone else to dive in and play.
I agree. We have a wealth of riches in blogs these days. Your comments are always so helpful. :)
Q, sometimes I am in awe. I probably sound like a boot licker. But I swear, sometimes I would like tp put your justifiable rage to music.
The "corporations are people" issue is one that has enraged me for many years. I guess I haven't been hanging around the right circles, because I never knew that others felt the same way. I am so glad I found my way here last fall.
It is a pleasure to read the interesting thoughts and clever musings that are posted on this site every day.
I'm with you on corporate personhood. It galls me to the utmost! Your comments here are much appreciated, so I'm glad you found your way here too. :)
I live in an area where most of the population is Republican and Southern Baptist.
Their theory is that you are only responsible for yourself and not the community as a whole. "Brother's Keeper" only applies to the church family, if that far.The majority of people in this community accept the literal truth of the Bible.
Average IQ, by definition, is 100. I would suggest that most of the readers and posters on TPM are at least 115 or higher.
I would suggest that the people in my community have an average IQ of 100 or below. Conceptualizing TheraP's comments are well above the capability of most of the people in my community.
TheraP has seen and walked behind the veil. My community cannot even see the veil.
Well, I'll tell you something. They may not believe they are their neighbor's keeper. But I am firmly resolved to be their neighborly keeper. Because to whatever degree we can assist everyone, we benefit ourselves as well.
It's got to be frustrating for you living in the community you do. But I'm going to make a guess that as this terrible economic melt-down continues, some minds may change and some habits may change. Suffering has a way of bringing that about. Not that I wish suffering upon them. But times are tough. If you listen to suffering people, you may find a way in. Bide your time. (read some of those teaching tales - like from Idries Shah - about how people can learn when they are ready, when the time is right and so on)
And keep yourself sane here. Which is obviously what you're already doing. :)
In your original post; the last sentence of the first paragraph, you reference the 80%.
You should visit the land of the 20%'s.
In the worst of times, the people revert to the "opiate of the masses".
I live right next to the 20%. Next county. (Also in my city, but "miraculously" Obama won our princict). My very congressional "non-representative" is voted in by the fundies, both wealthy and not. Whole neighborhoods of well-kept homes and well-kept lawns and kids going to nice schools where they just about all vote R. I know a man, a Ph.D. in science, who some years back was hired to teach in a private school in that county. Ultimately he lost his job - because he would agree that creationism is a valid theory and should be taught alongside evolution. He is a lifelong devout Christian - but not a fundie.
Maybe I have hope because I can see our neighborhood changing over the 22 years we've lived in it.
I did do some canvassing in a very R neighborhood near me during the campaign. I called it the "bad karma" neighborhood. Literally I felt there was bad karma there. I was glad to get out of it.
I feel for you. I truly do.
correction: He would not agree to teach creationism.
I think that should read "readers and posters at TPM are 115 or high!"
I sometimes feel like a cat that is half way up the drapes, so I can relate.
Don't worry. Well probably all be growing bananas in Sachkachtewan soon. Be sure to say Hi.
TheraP,all others,
Great blog! Much appreciated!
“Near P-T-S-D”
Post Theory Syntax Distress
Pandered To Sympathy Depleted
“Personhood” Treasured Stolen Dialectic
Penalty Taken Serious Delay
People Talking Suffering Decisions
Permit Takeover Soon Dammit!

Pretty Terrifically Stated Dear (frog)
(Sorry for the familiarity, but couldn't think of a 'D' word that fit :-{)
I simply have to co-sign! Powerful Poem!
thanks Rowan, LOL ~~~
I prefer Systemic Corruption. I think it a contextually more accurate term. In the sense that we have been deceived, that deception has been used to mask the underlying corruption that undeniably exists. Deception is used to hide a truth and therefore is coincidental to actual intent.
Since I borrowed the term from quinn, you'll have to take that up with him.
I have to go out and cobble things together for cash so I only have time to quote Kafka:

He eats the droppings from his own table; thus he manages to stuff himself fuller than the others for a little, but meanwhile he forgets how to eat from the table; thus in time even the droppings cease to fall.
Kafka wrote stories of the type I mentioned. Teaching stories. Warning stories. Thanks for the reminder! :)
Bravo. Now I have to think again...and maybe write again. Probably write again.
Ironically, I noticed that two of the "blogs" on the list this morning were blatant advertisements for commercial companies, and while there's a way to report abuse in the case of a comment there's no way to do the same for a blog.
Thankee, TheraP

Here's how to report abuse of a blog. Look in the lower right hand corner of your screen. click that button on "report abuse." An email will come up from your own email client - and you can copy the url from the blot and then paste in the email body.
That should do it!
And please, do write a blog after you've had a think. I would love to read that!
"they should have to put their work "out there" in normal English in a way that's understandable by your average interested reader."
Thera P, now and then your hopefulness is just plain contagious.
Maybe we need a "challenge blog" where we openly challenge specific "professionals" to explain their work in common language. Or, maybe we could find other experts to decipher that jargon for us.
But it would be very interesting to see, for instance, one of the Wall Street book-cookers climb down off their acronym-onious high-horse and tell us the truth instead of all those abbreviated lies.
The military brass, too, are caught up terminally in this code-word group-speak, and we never know what they mean, it is a private language meant for each other, deliberately for our exclusion.
Plain talk is uncommon in politics. It is a strange sort of exclusive sophism.
I like your idea of a Blog Challenge.
Not sure if it will come to pass. But what a great idea! :)
Welcome to the challenge blog. TheraP is serving cocktails in ten minutes. For offering such a good idea, yours are free.
It is an old piece of wisdom that says that you really don’t understand something until you can teach it to someone who doesn’t.
I remember when the Bush v. Gore decision came out from SCOTUS. I am not a lawyer but I began to read it anyway. I didn’t get too far into it until I realized they were blowing smoke. There were so many words and so little meaning. There is a funny kind of intuition that anyone can employ in these situations.
When I worked in market research, I noticed that when the results of a study were definitive, you know, 60/30 with 10% undecided, the report was fairly short and to the point. But if the results were narrow, like 39/32 with 24% undecided, then the report was very long. It seems that uncertainty begets a subconscious need to justify the exercise. Or is it that they just hope you’ll give up reading and say to yourself “Oh I guess he must be right. I’ll just go with the executive summary.”

Without meaning to be too cruel; perhaps the breakdown in civic trust is in part due to the grandstanding and exaggeration of the blogosphere and the media as much as any breach of trust itself?
No one sets out to be evil.
Maggie Thatcher gets some credit, by having said "There is no such thing as Society, only families."
Good point about no one setting about to become evil. You do include Bin Laden, and Hitler, yes?
Evil is actions, not a condition.
Of course I do.
Captain Nemo would agree.
"the grandstanding and exaggeration of the blogosphere and the media..."
The blogosphere is eclectic, the media is a tool.
If "the blogosphere" rejoices and revels in it's inheritance of the 4th Estate from the dead-tree media, that is surely not grandstanding.
And it would be very hard to exaggerate that historic transition, we will look back in very few years and marvel at how it happened, against all odds, that "the blogs" picked up that 4th Estate mantle so gracefully.
And just in time to save democracy from the monopolists.

I didn't have time for this comment before.
You wrote:
"We have become a nation where everything and everyone is looked on as a commodity - to be packaged, sold, and consumed. Where advertising is all. And psychological research of how to get us to "buy" drives that consumption. And where systemic deception has become so "normal" that a breakdown of civic trust is all but accomplished."
This is, of course, true and it has been true for a long, long time. The rotten heart of capitalism has at it's very core only one central function fed and propelled by greed: buying and selling. The apostles of capitalism as cure all have done all they could to make sure the tentacles of capitalism reach every aspect of life. That is why we see the nearly insane and certainly obsessive application of business principles to all sorts of situations that they should not be applied to---at least not in undiluted form. Thus, you have churches trying to figure out how to "market" themselves. You have people discussing political parties as "brands" that are to be marketed, sold, packaged, repackaged, revamped, upgraded, and so on.
Marketing has been the heart of electoral politics forever. Candidates have always been little more than a sales pitch between Coke vs Pepsi. The smartest consumers understand that there is almost no perceptible difference in the two products and/or their alleged benefits. Thus, instead of selling the product itself they sell nontangible attributes that they associate the produt with. So, have a coke and a smile because coke obviously will make you happy. The producer reinforces this idea with powerful, memorable images of happy people. We are exhorted to become part of the Pepsi Generation because then you'll be in the "in" crowd, young, vibrant and alive and more than anything else: sexy! A note to readers, don't get hung up on the pepsi/coke metaphor. It's just a way to illustrate the concepts. There are plenty of other products that can be used to illustrate the same thing. In last year's campaign it was Obama vs McCain in a contest that was like presenting the American people with a choice between everything good about every brand of soda pop availabel and in the best, most attractive package imaginable vs a nearly empty 70 year old bottle of regular flavored listerine.
But this idea that everything is a brand/product that needs to sold/marketed is out of control and while often very useful is also in some arenas downright malignant. Business principles to some extent can be applied to government operations, but not always and one glaring difference changes much of the way the business of government must be approached if it is going to work well and that is that the business of government does not have as it's aim: profit. It is not a for profit enterprise. The benefits of government almost never come in the form of dollars of profit, but in other forms.
The idea of applying business principles to the area of health care is obviously disasterous and what continues to make American health care more expensive, more profitable, and less efficacious than health care in other nations where they do not make the foolish mistake of trying operate health care are a for profit business. It simply will never work that way. But so smitten with the orthodoxy of capitalist ideology are we that as a society we find it difficult to discard this costly and very harmful idea even when it is harming our own health and that of our children. How pathetically sad.
Capitalism, like a computer able only to think in terms of ones and zeroes, cannot compute or understand things unless measured on it's terms. It can only appreciate humanity in terms of monetary value, it cannot ever grasp the priceless value of art, love, melody, or feeling.
Inextricably bound to the capitalist principle of a world viewed as products to be bought and sold is the ultimately self-defeating proposition that competition is always good and preferable to any state of noncompetition. This inevitably leads to a cannibalistic stage where capitalism is destroying itself as a result of inappropriate competition or competition that does not or cannot produce benefits for people other than monetary profit.
I am not saying that the idea of selling cannot be usefully applied outside a business setting, but it has real limitations both practically and in the moral/ethical realm. Profit is not what our soceity should strive for as it's primary goal because profit isn't human. By it's very nature profit is inhuman and ultimately ceases at a certain piont to serve humans positively but instead we humans end up serving it. It is a lesson not easily learned by humans whether it is the Hebrews worshiping the golden calf or American businesspeople worshiping get rich quick schemes without regard to the long term corrosive effect those schemes will have on society or whether it is politicians, business people and citizens together literally sacrificing the air they breathe and the water they drink in pursuit of profits for a small number of people at the expense of perhaps human existence in the long run if global climate change is not reversed.
We must realize that we need always to remember that the way to improve human society is to look for ways and work toward goals that actually benefit all of humanity and that help provide the space and opportunity for every human being to realize as much of their potential as possible. This is a dramatic shift from the ruling mindset that has nearly destroyed our economy and destabilized the entire world.
My reply is below, oleeb.
Oleeb, how about this, I take you and Q out on the road. We do not even need a script. Just get you two in the right mood, no ales until after show time of course, and I will do lead ins. We just take our show to the places where people have been most fricked by the last eight years and really the last thirty.
Good gripe from you, really good.
Your comments always extend and elevate the discussion:
We must realize that we need always to remember that the way to improve human society is to look for ways and work toward goals that actually benefit all of humanity and that help provide the space and opportunity for every human being to realize as much of their potential as possible.
It strikes me that the Cafe presents an experiment in exactly what you've urged. Because it is completely devoid, for us who blog here as citizens, of any capitalistic aims. We are doing this for free. We are doing it out of concern for the good of society. We are working together for no compensation except fellow feeling and our deep-seated care for our nation and our world. It is possible that without realizing it or intending it that we are subverting capitalism - not only in terms of the values we espouse but because of the very volunteer effort involved.

It's also fun. By the way, thanks for this discussion--I think it warrants a bigger audience.
Our audience is likely far larger than we imagine.
Plus, if you print this blog out... it also turns out to be delicious AND nutritious.
LOL, depends upon the paper quality....
That was meant for oleeb.
Thanks! I do hope our exchanges here have some impact outside of the immediate.
Your post encompassed so much it would take weeks to sift through all the important issues it raised. Well done!
Great minds and all that, here's an interesting piece from David Sirota that is pertinent to this discussion:
What "Establishment Media" Really Means
Definitionally, "Establishment Media" means media organs that front the patina of objectivity and "moderation" while aggressively pushing a extremist ideological agenda - that agenda being the reverence, support and worship of the bipartisan political Establishment in Washington, D.C.
Thank you so much, Rowan. I will follow up.
Following up here. I was so glad he tied in David Brook's column from yesterday. Yes, the lying of David Brooks. A man who describes himself a moderate. And then pretends to speak for moderates. One more systemic deception - enabled by our newspaper of record and by public tv (he used the same falsehoods in the Newshour Fri)

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