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Padraig
11-04-2006, 01:19 AM
Origin of the Ego.

http://ins.rutgers.edu/images/decartes_big.jpg

Cerebral mechanisms of visuomotor coordination according to Descartes.

In our pomo-triumphant, renewed Ego-Cartesianism times, this four-part documentary series might be worth a look:

The Century of the Self

PART I

How politicians and business learned to create and manipulate mass-consumer society.

The Century of the Self tells the untold and sometimes controversial story of the growth of the mass-consumer society in Britain and the United States. How was the all-consuming self created, by whom, and in whose interests?

Download file - Real Media (http://informationclearinghouse.info/article12642.htm)

Or - Windows Media (http://tinyurl.com/elqxf)
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PART II

Adam Curtis' acclaimed series examines the rise of the all-consuming self against the backdrop of the Freud dynasty.

Part II - The Engineering of Consent (http://informationclearinghouse.info/article12646.htm)

How the US government, big business, and the CIA developed techniques to manage and control the minds of the American people.
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PART III

Adam Curtis' acclaimed series examines the rise of the all-consuming self against the backdrop of the Freud dynasty.

Part III Of IV - There is a Policeman Inside All Our Heads: He Must Be Destroyed (http://informationclearinghouse.info/article12669.htm)

American corporations realised that self was not a threat but their greatest opportunity. It was in their interest to encourage people to feel they were unique individuals and then sell them ways to express that individuality. To do this they turned to techniques developed by Freudian psychoanalysts to read the inner desires of the new self.

PART IV imminent ...

Keith P
11-04-2006, 07:00 AM
good stuff.

dHarry
11-04-2006, 02:40 PM
it's a fairly damning version of psychoanalysis' influence (including the Freud family) in the (intertwined) spheres of marketing and politics, from 20th C advertising right through to the Reagan/Thatcher/Clinton/Blair era of focus group politics, whereby policies (or at least election promises) are tailored and tweaked to suit the expectations and tastes of the electorate, who always get what they want and want what they get...

dHarry
11-04-2006, 02:46 PM
... As I just mentioned here (http://www.dissensus.com/showthread.php?t=3350&page=4&pp=15#post47708) interesting to note Deleuze citing the pernicious influence of psychoanalysis as an inheritance of Descartes' cogito.

owen
13-04-2006, 01:47 AM
possibly the best documentary made on british television like, ever. i wouldn't, by the way, necessarily call it a critique of psychoanalysis per se- more a study of its pernicious outgrowths, bearing in mind the freud line that psychoanalysis, if taken literally, turns people into revolutionaries...and what this admission of defeat entails. incredible footage as well...my dream job would possibly be adam curtis' archive assistant
http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfour/documentaries/images/century_self_wide.jpg
the (inferior, but still fascinating) 'sequel' caused much debate here-
http://www.dissensus.com/showthread.php?t=92&page=1&pp=15&highlight=power+nightmares

Padraig
13-04-2006, 10:11 PM
possibly the best documentary made on british television like, ever. i wouldn't, by the way, necessarily call it a critique of psychoanalysis per se- more a study of its pernicious outgrowths, bearing in mind the freud line that psychoanalysis, if taken literally, turns people into revolutionaries...and what this admission of defeat entails. incredible footage as well...my dream job would possibly be adam curtis' archive assistant
http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfour/documentaries/images/century_self_wide.jpg
the (inferior, but still fascinating) 'sequel' caused much debate here-
http://www.dissensus.com/showthread.php?t=92&page=1&pp=15&highlight=power+nightmares

Yes, Owen, its certainly very good indeed , and, far from it being a critique of psychoanalysis, it - very simply - demonstrates how US corporate capitalism [via help from its opportunistic agent, Bernays] ruthlessly appropriated some psychoanalytic ideas for its own ends [something which Freud rightfully dismissed as vulgar, frivolous; even in later years, Freud rejected an offer of $100,000 from William Randolf Hearst as well as other lucrative Hollywood offers to come to America and scriptwrite a film ...], despite the doc's unfortunate over-emphasis on Bernay as [I]agent provocateur rather than simply servile agent ...

Thanks for that link; yes, The Power of Nightmares didn't quite match the 'prequel.'

gek-opel
16-04-2006, 11:08 PM
I have been loving this documentary over the last few evenings... makes better viewing than the dreck that passes for television these days...

Curtis' main flaw appears to be that his sense of grandiose narrative (which makes his docs so compelling, that sense of over-arching horror at it all) leads him to appear to argue that everything which occurs within his story is the direct result of the particular thread he is pursuing... at one point he comes onto the Nazis, and almost claims Joseph Goebbels got all his ideas from Bernays! Also, to assert that the rise of the individual from the late 60s to 80s was predominently due to the effects of self-actualisation gurus seems somewhat over the top (there are many other factors which were also at work here). Its not that his core arguments are wrong (they are not) but the way everything threads together so neatly, (and without outside factors contributing to the progress of his narrative) undermines in some respects his case.

However, I was still left with a sense of incredible anger and alienation from my world after watching this series. Its a shame that due to music and clips rights being dificult to clear neither this nor "The Power Of Nightmares" are likely to be made available on DVD... therefore have to make do with viewing them on

the smallest screen in the world!

owen
17-04-2006, 01:01 AM
Curtis' main flaw appears to be that his sense of grandiose narrative (which makes his docs so compelling, that sense of over-arching horror at it all) leads him to appear to argue that everything which occurs within his story is the direct result of the particular thread he is pursuing... ]

this is true. on the one hand the leninist, 'everything is connected line' is very attractive- but painting matthew freud as being in any way as significant as anna, sigmund or bernays is hmm, not entirely convincing. also would have liked some more marcuse in the 60s stuff, specially his critique of reich...but these are all minor flaws in a masterpiece.

infinite thought
17-04-2006, 01:10 AM
Agreed - century of self one of the only documentaries on tv you're ever likely to want to watch again. Most have less than one thesis that they bash you over the head with until the will to think has left the room. I have played bits of the Curtis to various groups of students (philosophy/critical thinking), especially the smoking/suffragettes section - and it works brilliantly, conjuring up all many of arguments about 'free will', 'propaganda' (in its original etymologically 'neutral' English sense and the others), desire, politics, etc.

It is, of course, monomaniacal in its argumentation, as (fantastic new addition to dissensus!) gek-opel points out - but where else are you going to see footage of 'encounter groups', adverts, LSD therapy, focus groups et al worked into such a coherent and affecting argument?

gek-opel
17-04-2006, 01:23 AM
Also: Curtis is brilliant at showing the twists and reversals of ideas and ideologies as they snake through history, here how anti-capitalist freedom fighters become twisted into the self-actualisers, who then become the voters for Thatcher-Reagan. In "The Power Of Nightmares" how the Neo-cons began as left wingers who have been "mugged by reality"... All these perversions and inversions...

sufi
19-05-2006, 02:10 PM
glommed 1st couple already, perhaps i'll get time to catch the others this weekend,
they also have 'the corporation' in that site which i'm thoroughly looking fwd to :)

zhao
19-05-2006, 08:10 PM
thanks for bump and thanks for post

just realized the bad but sometimes interesting apple's been banned. oh well...

hundredmillionlifetimes
29-05-2006, 08:12 PM
High resolution [Mpeg4 and Mpeg2], freely downloadable (under creative commons public domain) versions of the entire series of both The Century of the Self and The Power of Nightmares are now available here:

The Century of the Self [Mpeg4]:

http://www.archive.org/details/AdaCurtisCenturyoftheSelf_0

http://www.archive.org/details/AdamCurtisCenturyoftheSelfPart2of4

http://www.archive.org/details/AdamCurtisCenturyoftheSelfPart3of4

http://www.archive.org/details/AdamCurtisCenturyoftheSelfPart4of4_0


The Power of Nightmares [Mpeg2 and Mpeg4]:

http://www.archive.org/details/ThePowerOfNightmares

sufi
31-05-2006, 09:53 AM
thanks & welcome x 100,000,000!

zhao
09-06-2006, 12:17 AM
thanks a hundred million Hundred Million - I could not view the WMP files on original page.

DJ PIMP
26-06-2006, 01:24 AM
Watched the first part last night. Great stuff.

Interesting to see the implications of Freuds interpretation of the unconscious as being repressed animalistic desires etc, basically a destructive force, vs Jung who looked at art and myth and saw that energy as being part of the force that directs the individual toward becoming whole.

The fact that the unconscious exists isn't the problem, its that its not constructively channelled.

hundredmillionlifetimes
21-03-2007, 01:09 AM
Part I of Adam Curtis' latest three-part BBC documentary series, [B]The Trap.


"how a simplistic model of human beings as self-seeking, almost robotic, creatures led to today's idea of freedom."

http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctwo/images/trap/trap_freedom_360.jpg

Watch part I here (real media format, 30mb):

The Trap – What Happened To Our Dream Of Freedom: F**k You Buddy (http://www.indybay.org/uploads/2007/03/11/1_fuck_you_buddy.rm)

[The Cold War, paranoia, the Rand Corporation, Game Theory, Nash, self-interest, reductivist scientism, Hayek, R D Laing ...]


Synopsis of Episode I (http://www.blairwatch.co.uk/node/1690)


So, what is it about? Well, I'd say it is about freedom and how the concept of freedom seems to have changed since the Cold War and how that change came about. As Britain and America go around the world 'liberating' oppressed people, and as they try to 'liberate' us from the old bureaucracies of the past, they replace what was there before with a strange kind of freedom which bears little resemblance to the freedom we knew before. This series examines how this came to happen and looks at the mechanisms behind this paradox which is, in effect, the losing of our freedom in the name of freedom, replacing it with a new form of social control which entraps us all.

The first part of the series goes back to the origins of this phenomenon and that is the paranoid environment of the Cold War. After World War II, the bureaucracies that existed to regulate unrestrained capitalism started to be challenged. The free-market economist Friedrich von Hayek (an inspiration for Thatcher) argued that the use of politics to plan society was more dangerous than capitalism and led to tyranny, using the Soviet Union as an example. He advocated a system where individuals followed their own self interest and government played little part. The Market was everything, what he called a "self-directing automatic system" where everyone persued their own gain and there was no room for altruism.

Hayek was largely ignored until scientists looking for ways to win the Cold War developed strategies based on "Game Theory", which was pioneered by the schizophrenic mathematician John Nash at the Rand corporation. Game Theory applied as military strategy kept a balance of power as the Soviet Union would not attack the USA out of fear and self-interest knowing that if they did, they too would be devastated. Game Theory, however, produced a dark vision of humanity where everyone was mistrustful of one another. John Nash demonstrated that it was possible to create stability through suspicion and self-interest in the whole of society rather than just Cold War strategy. Nash developed a game called "Fuck You Buddy" in which the only way to win was to betray your partners. By applying Game Theory to all forms of human interaction, he proved that a society based on mutual suspicion didn't necessarily lead to chaos, but he made the assumption that humans were naturally calculating and always seeking an advantage over their fellows and this led to an equilibrium. This system could only work if everyone behaved selfishly. As soon as people started co-operating together, instability ensued and this proved to be the case when the system was tested - participants co-operated with each other.

Nash's ideas were spread into the wider society when the psychiatrist R D Laing challenged conventional ideas of love and trust in his dealings with people suffering from schizophrenia. He observed that the medical staff in mental hospitals rarely spoke to the patients. As an experiment he selected twelve patients and spoke to them about their problems and encouraged them to speak also. They were soon well enough to leave the hospital but soon had to be re-admitted. This led Laing to think that their problems were caused by their environment, particularly in family life where power and control were exercised. He used Game Theory to examine this idea so the problems could be quantified using questionnaires, the answers to which were fed into a computer. He concluded that acts of love and kindness were actually weapons used to exert power and control - domination games as found in the outside world of international relations. he spread the idea that none of the state institutions of the post war world could be trusted and that public duty was an illusion which was, in fact, a means of mind control. The lack of trust spread as Britain's institutions were torn down in the name of freedom.

At this point some American right-wing economists inspired by Friedrich von Hayek, many of whom had also worked for the Rand Corporation, came onto scene. They set out to prove, using the science of Game Theory, that public duty which had under-pinned British public life for generations, was a sham and a corrupt hypocrisy, and their ideas were to start the process of the demolition of the old ideas of the British state. They also introduced to Britain the paranoid outlook of the Cold War strategies. The collapse of British government bureaucracies in the 1970s was blamed on the economy, but there was more to it than this. They seemed to have turned against the people they were supposed to serve. The group of American right-wing economists explained this by stating the philosophies based on the techniques of Game Theory - that everyone was strategising against each other in an effort to win some advantage. The idea of politicians working for the public good, they said, was a complete fantasy because it assumed that there were shared goals based on self-sacrifice and altruism when actually everyone was self-seeking. From this came the theory of "Public Choice" which was meant to destroy the idea of working for the public interest. They were led by Professor James Buchanan. Buchanan had a strong influence on Margaret Thatcher when she became leader of the Conservative party in 1975. When he came to London, he explained that the British institutions were full of self-serving bureaucrats rather than people working for the public good. Thatcher set out to attack these bureaucracies and at the same time the writer Sir Anthony Jay created a successful propaganda TV program to push the idea of public choice. It was called "Yes Minister".

Meanwhile, R D Laing went on to challenge the authority of the American psychiatric establishment with the aim of liberating people but instead what happened was a new form of control was developed using numbers. Laing said psychiatry was a fake science used to shore up a collapsing society and that madness was a label used to lock up those who wanted to break free. One of the psychologist who attended Laing's talks, David Rosenhan, devised an experiment that discredited the psychiatric establishment by showing that they locked up sane people and couldn't tell the difference between sane and insane. As a result of this a system was developed which just measured the surface behavior of people to remove human judgment. New categories were invented and new disorders like Attention Deficit Disorder or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The diagnosis was done by computer. Studies were done on people and it was found with this system that more than 50 percent of Americans had some sort of mental disorder. An unforeseen consequence was that people started to self-diagnose themselves and ask their doctors for medication to make them 'normal'. This led to a new form of control done by people themselves in order to conform.

When Thatcher came to Power in 1979, she espoused this philosophy of 'freedom' but in order to exert some control she used similar systems based on numbers. She wanted to privatise as much of the state as possible, but realising that some institutions would have to remain in state control, she tried to change them by scrapping the idea of public duty and introducing a system of incentives based on self-interest - public choice. In 1986 she attacked the NHS. To do this she enlisted the help of Alain Enthoven, a nuclear strategist from the Rand Corporation who had devised mathematical models for nuclear war to incentivise the other side. He developed a technique called "Systems Analysis" which could be applied to any human organisation. Its aim was to remove any emotional and subjective baggage that could confuse the system and replace them with mathematically defined targets and incentives. He first used this idea in the 1960s to change the way the Pentagon was run under Robert McNamara. Patriotism was replaced by rational incentives and targets against the wishes of the military. However, when McNamara tried to run the Vietnam War this way, it was a disaster. Performance targets were met by killing civilians.

In the British NHS, Alain Enthoven employed the same system. He called it the "Internal Market". It mimicked the free market by introducing competition and incentives, opening the door for corruption. This created the self-interested kind of people John Nash envisaged in his Game Theory, only now in the NHS. As the Cold War ended, the paranoia that was prevalent in fighting it was now firmly rooted in our society.

Reviews:

Matthew Carr (http://www.thefirstpost.co.uk/index.php?menuID=1&subID=1218)

K-punk (http://k-punk.abstractdynamics.org/archives/009166.html)

Interview with Adam Curtis (http://www.hgi.org.uk/archive/adamcurtis.htm)

Episode 2: "The Lonely Robot" (18 March, 2007)
Episode 3. "We Will Force You To Be Free" (25 March, 2007)

noel emits
21-03-2007, 02:08 PM
Thatcher set out to attack these bureaucracies and at the same time the writer Sir Anthony Jay created a successful propaganda TV program to push the idea of public choice. It was called "Yes Minister".

That's interesting. As a youngun watching 'Yes Minister' I took away the idea that the existence public choice in a democracy was largely a fallacy.

Guybrush
21-03-2007, 02:34 PM
I saw the first two parts of ‘The Trap’ yesterday—very interesting. Cannot wait until Sunday.

Very fast torrent for part 2: ‘The Lonely Robot’ (http://fenopy.com/torrent/The_Trap_Episode_2of3_The_Lonely_Robot/NTQzMDM4/index.html).

Very fast torrent for part 1: ‘F**k You Buddy’ (http://fenopy.com/torrent/BBC_The_Trap_What_Happened_to_Our_Dreams_of_Freedo m_1of3_F_You_Buddy_DVB_XviD_MP3_www_mvgroup_org_av i/NTMwNTI1/index.html).

hundredmillionlifetimes
21-03-2007, 08:05 PM
Part II [broadcast on 18th March 2007] of Adam Curtis' latest three-part BBC documentary series, The Trap.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/9/9e/The_trap_screenshot.PNG


Continuing his examination of neo-liberal ideology, Curtis in this episode describes how politicians in the 1990s attempted to model freedom by utilising a scientific model of ourselves as simplified robots, rational calculating beings whose behaviour and even feelings could be predicted by numbers. Out of this came today's systems of management - from performance targets to the new categories of mental disorder, and reading the genetic codes buried inside us.

As with the first episode, Curtis combines extensive archive footage ["'The BBC has an archive of all these tapes where they have just dumped all the news items they have ever shown. One tape for every three months. So what you get is this odd collage, an accidental treasure trove. You sit in a darkened room, watch all these little news moments, and look for connections."] with an eclectic soundtrack - "Intermezzo" from The Karelia Suite, Jean Sibelius (Opening title, episode one); "Return To Hot Chicken", Yo La Tengo; "On Some Faraway Beach", Brian Eno ; "Age Of Consent", New Order ; verture from Tannhauser, Richard Wagner; and from feature film soundtracks: "Assault On Precinct 13 (Main Title)" from Assault On Precinct 13, John Carpenter; and Bernard Herrman pieces from Hitchcock's Psycho and Vertigo.

Watch Part II here (real media format, 34mb):

The Trap – What Happened To Our Dream Of Freedom: The Lonely Robot (http://www.indybay.org/uploads/2007/03/18/2_the_lonely_robot.rm)


Synopsis of Episode II (http://www.blairwatch.co.uk/node/1692)


This episode shows how in the 1990s politicians from both the right and the left tried to extend an idea of freedom based on the freedom of the market to all other areas of society. This had never happened before and the basis of this new 'freedom' was Game Theory, a system which reduced people to calculating, self-interested robots led by incentives rather than any idea of public duty. The result was the opposite of freedom; new forms of control, greater inequalities and the return of a rigid class structure based on wealth.

This machine model of humans led to a new idea on how to change society. Now psychiatrists and drug companies had a role to play in adjusting these machines. This became new form of control as people took the new drug, Prozac (SSRIs) to relieve their anxieties and conform to an idea of 'normality'. Some psychiatrists began to wonder if people were being conditioned to fit into parameters of a static model of what they 'should' be, defined by checklists - checklists that only accounted for observable symptoms, not any understanding of the patient's life. Dr Robert Spitzer wondered if many people were being misdiagnosed, with normal feelings of happiness, sadness, loneliness being treated as a mental disorder. A new system of management was emerging with drugs taking away difficult feelings making individuals happier but also simpler beings, easier to manage and more like the machines they were assumed to be under Game Theory - more efficient but less human.

When politicians started using this machine model, the result was a more rigid society rather than a more free one. When New Labour came to power in 1997 Tony Blair promised a society free of the arrogance and prejudices of the old elites who dominated the class system. New Labour was modelled on the Clinton Democrats and when they came to power they did exactly as Clinton did, giving power away to the banks and the markets - Gordon Brown's first act was to let the Bank of England dictate interest rates. New Labour also used the mathematical systems brought in by John Major and expanded them on an unprecedented scale believing that humans actually behaved in this simplified way suggested by the models. Performance targets and incentives were set for everything and everyone, including cabinet ministers. The Treasury under Gordon Brown started creating a vast mathematical system and started putting numerical values to things people had thought impossible to measure previously - hunger in sub Saharan Africa to be reduced to below 48 percent, world conflict to be reduced by six percent. All towns and villages in Britain were to be measured for a "community vibrancy index". Even the amount of birdsong there should be in the countryside was quantified.

The idea behind the mathematical system was to liberate public servants from old forms of bureaucratic control and workers were free to meet their targets anyway they wanted. However, New Labour soon discovered that people were more complicated and devious than their simple models allowed. Public servants began to find ingenious ways of meeting their targets. In the NHS, hospital managers used a variety of tricks. When ordered to cut waiting lists, they got consultants to do the easiest operations first meaning that complicated conditions like cancers were no longer prioritised. In one hospital patients were phoned up and asked when they were taking their holidays and the operations were then scheduled for the time they'd be away. In casualty departments a new role was invented - a "hello nurse" who did nothing except greet the patient so it could be recorded that the patient had been 'seen'. In order to meet the targets for a reduction of patients waiting on trolleys, managers simply removed the wheels and reclassified them as beds. Similarly corridors were reclassified as wards. In the police force, a trick to reduce the rate of recorded crime, was to reclassify numerous serious crimes as "suspicious occurrences" which wouldn't be recorded in the figures.

The government responded by introducing even more mathematical levels of management. Complex auditing systems were used to monitor public servants meeting their targets in the correct way which meant even more control was exerted over them. A more rigid and stratified society was being created. In education, the government wanted to introduce league tables for schools so parents could see which schools were the best and which the worst. The idea was to provide an incentive for less successful schools to compete and improve thus raising standards across the country. The opposite happened. Rich parents moved into the areas which had the best schools. This forced up house prices and squeezed poorer families out. Schools taught pupils only the narrow facts needed to pass exams instead of giving them a fuller education in order to rise up the league tables. Because of this, children had a less of a chance of rising up in society. A series of reports in 2006 showed that there was a clear link between New Labour's education policy and the rise of social segregation. Social Mobility in Britain has now ground to a halt and the country is more rigid and stratified than at any time since the Second World War. At the same time the inequalities in society have become more extreme. Britain under New Labour is now even more unequal than it was under Margaret Thatcher with more and more wealth going to the tiny one percent at the top. Since 1997 differences in life expectancy and also in child mortality in different regions have increased too.

In America throughout the 1990s the economic model of democracy was leading not just to a rise in inequality, but also to financial and political corruption on a huge scale. The numbers behind the economic boom of the Clinton Presidency were not telling the truth - the giant accounting firms had become corrupted as they found new methods to make their figures look good, some of them were questionable and others fraudulent. This corruption was widespread. By faking profits on a huge scale, personal bonuses would be increased. Attempts to stop this corruption failed because of the huge donations of millions of dollars in campaign contributions given by the fraudulent corporations and accounting firms.

The Clinton administration portrayed the boom as a revolutionary success despite the growing evidence of corruption. This "democracy of the marketplace" was spun to make it look like all levels of society were benefiting, but this was completely false. Those at the bottom of society saw their income actually fall between the 1970s and 1990s. People in the middle saw a slight increase, while those at the top received massive increases.

Now questions were being asked in scientific circles as to whether too simple a picture of human beings was being portrayed by the mathematical models used in this new system. In genetics the idea that DNA is the all-controlling set of instructions for life has been replaced by a more complex model. Science has shown that the cell actually chooses and edits which parts of the DNA to use depending on the environmental forces acting on it. And the research done by Napoleon Chagnon into the Yanomamo people has also been questioned. It seems that the presence of an anthropologist and film crew may have affected the behaviour of the tribes and they were fighting for the gifts of machetes that were offered. Even John Nash has now expressed some doubts about his model of simplistic selfish individuals now that he has recovered from his schizophrenia. The idea of the free market as an efficient system is coming under attack and new research is showing that markets do not create stability or order. Politics has been shown to have a powerful role to play in control of the markets. The New discipline of behavioral economics has been studying to see if people really do behave as the simplified model suggests. Their studies show that only two groups in society actually behave in a rational self-interested way in all experimental situations. One is economists themselves, and the other is psychopaths.

gek-opel
21-03-2007, 08:31 PM
I love Curtis, (and am enjoying this series) but I feel he's somewhat overreached his grasp with this one, which is a shame. His conclusions are totally and 100% sound, but the amount of ground he tries to cover in just three hours means that some of the material appears to be a bit unconvincing (as much for lack of clarity as anything else)... the mental illness stuff that he has attempted to weave in doesn't mesh that well (perhaps it could do, but that might take another few hours of explanation and more careful analysis of the evidence). He's obviously on firmer ground with politics, but still the tiresome "the numbers are evil" schtick is well, a bit tiresome- I'm no expert on Game theory but I have a funny feeling his presentation of it is completely one dimensional... Also his attack on the treatment of humans as if they were computers (a point he returns to via economics, DSM psychiatry and Dawkinsian Genetics) seems to lack a key thread- an analysis of the power in the popular imagination of the computer as metaphor... basically a lot of his conclusions could have been reached by simpler means and therefore afforded better explanation, without necessarily sacrificing the grandiose sweep which characterises his films (ie- the century of the self certainly felt a lot more measured than this). Its still good to see this kind of ambition (and unabashedly polemical political voice) in a television documentary, the music and visuals are superb as ever, and I'm hoping he will pull it together a bit more in the third part... I kind of wish the BBC had allowed him twice as many episodes really...

Guybrush
21-03-2007, 09:06 PM
One thing I found odd about his idea of people self-medicating to be able to work more (= like robots) is that it seems to be, at least partly, gainsaid by the report described (http://www.slate.com/id/2161309/) below.


In 1965, the average man spent 42 hours a week working at the office or the factory; throw in coffee breaks, lunch breaks, and commuting time, and you're up to 51 hours. Today, instead of spending 42 and 51 hours, he spends 36 and 40. What's he doing with all that extra time? He spends a little on shopping, a little on housework, and a lot on watching TV, reading the newspaper, going to parties, relaxing, going to bars, playing golf, surfing the Web, visiting friends, and having sex. Overall, depending on exactly what you count, he's got an extra six to eight hours a week of leisure—call it the equivalent of nine extra weeks of vacation per year.

For women, time spent on the job is up from 17 hours a week to 24. With breaks and commuting thrown in, it's up from 20 hours to 26. But time spent on household chores is down from 35 hours a week to 22, for a net leisure gain of four to six hours. Call it five extra vacation weeks.

...

But not for everyone. About 10 percent of us are stuck in 1965, leisurewise. At the opposite extreme, 10 percent of us have gained a staggering 14 hours a week or more. (Once again, your gains are measured in comparison to a person who, in 1965, had the same characteristics that you have today.) By and large, the biggest leisure gains have gone precisely to those with the most stagnant incomes—that is, the least skilled and the least educated. And conversely, the smallest leisure gains have been concentrated among the most educated, the same group that's had the biggest gains in income.

Aguiar and Hurst can't explain fully that rising inequality, just as nobody can explain fully the rising inequality in income.

Mr. Tea
22-03-2007, 12:45 AM
Er, so workaholic high-flyers have little leisure time while people on the dole can sit about all day watching Trisha...

How is this news, exactly?

hundredmillionlifetimes
22-03-2007, 02:25 AM
I love Curtis, (and am enjoying this series) but I feel he's somewhat overreached his grasp with this one ... I'm no expert on Game theory but I have a funny feeling his presentation of it is completely one dimensional...

Yes, there is a sense in which Curtis is over-extending himself based on the success of the narrative structure formula that worked so well in The Century of the Self series ...

His over-emphasis on Game Theory, as you say, is one-dimensional: actually, the development of such an approach has its foundation, not in or during the Cold War, but as a result of the confluence of classical micro-economics and acognitive behavioural science that originated with the Hawthorne Experiments in the 1930s.

Still, who else is making superb, urgent documentaries like these?

[Judging from the soundtracks, Curtis seems obsessed with De Palma's Carrie, Hitchcock's North By NorthWest, Malick's Days of Heaven , Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13, and ...].

matt b
22-03-2007, 10:34 AM
Er, so workaholic high-flyers have little leisure time while people on the dole can sit about all day watching Trisha...

How is this news, exactly?

the article doesn't say that though, does it?

do you know anything about the 'dawning of the leisure society'? etc- the assumption being that those with wealth could afford to have more time off?
doesn't appear to be happening

Guybrush
22-03-2007, 11:12 AM
Matt B is right: there is nothing in the article suggesting that unemployed persons were included in the different surveys. I think they link to the original report, though, so you can examine that yourself.

Mr. Tea
22-03-2007, 01:15 PM
the article doesn't say that though, does it?

do you know anything about the 'dawning of the leisure society'? etc- the assumption being that those with wealth could afford to have more time off?
doesn't appear to be happening

Well OK, I extrapolated the bit about unemployed people - but surely they have the most 'stagnant' incomes of all?

matt b
22-03-2007, 01:27 PM
Well OK, I extrapolated the bit about unemployed people - but surely they have the most 'stagnant' incomes of all?

i don't know (i'd guess you'd actually see a reduction since the mid60s), i just tire of your constant assertions that people are poor due to their own laziness.

Mr. Tea
22-03-2007, 01:35 PM
i don't know (i'd guess you'd actually see a reduction since the mid60s), i just tire of your constant assertions that people are poor due to their own laziness.

That is not what I was getting at all. Is it not the case, though, that unemployed people (NOT people in low-paid jobs) generally have more 'leisure' time (even though they may not have any money with which to indulge in leisure activities beyond watching TV) than people with jobs?

I'm also at a loss as to when I made these 'constant' assertions about poor people. I remember talking about the anti-academic culture among certain social groups in the 'what's going on in London' thread, but that's quite clearly a different thing from simple laziness.

matt b
22-03-2007, 01:49 PM
"For an experience to qualify as leisure, it must meet three criteria: 1) The experience is a state of mind. 2) It must be entered into voluntarily. 3) It must be intrinsically motivating of its own merit." (Neulinger, 1981)

therefore, the unemployed have very little leisure time.

matt b
22-03-2007, 01:56 PM
I'm also at a loss as to when I made these 'constant' assertions about poor people. I remember talking about the anti-academic culture among certain social groups in the 'what's going on in London' thread, but that's quite clearly a different thing from simple laziness.

well the general feeling i got from your responses on that thread was that 'basically its their own fault, they should work harder'

your comment about the unemployed watching trisha compounded it.

Mr. Tea
22-03-2007, 02:11 PM
well the general feeling i got from your responses on that thread was that 'basically its their own fault, they should work harder'

My argument in that thread was that there is not some immovable, hostile Establishment keeping these kids from achieving at school (though that's not to say there wasn't in the past), but that a culture has arisen, born of both the get-rich-quick culture of Thatcherism and a general distrust of authority, that impels many of them to crime rather than academic achievement and an 'ordinary' job. Simply saying "well then it's their own fault, they should study hard and stay out of trouble" is about as useful as telling a chronic depressive to cheer up. My thesis was on the nature of the barriers people face, not that there were no barriers.



your comment about the unemployed watching trisha compounded it.
Well, a lot of them do watch Trisha. Although I accept that my comment could have been seen as inflamatory, fair enough - all I was getting at was that someone with no job has a lot of 'free time', if you want to distinguish that from leisure time per se.

vimothy
22-03-2007, 02:15 PM
All sounds pretty stupid if you ask me, which you probably don't.

Ditto "the Trap", and "the Power of Nightmares".

vimothy
22-03-2007, 02:20 PM
"how a simplistic model of human beings as self-seeking, almost robotic, creatures led to today's idea of freedom."

- I selfish because of Corld War game theorists in the Rand corporation? Because of (spluttering) Freidrich Hayek? Nonsense. If I am selfish it's because I am selfish - nowt to do with the bloody Rand Coorporation.

For example:


This episode shows how in the 1990s politicians from both the right and the left tried to extend an idea of freedom based on the freedom of the market to all other areas of society. This had never happened before and the basis of this new 'freedom' was Game Theory, a system which reduced people to calculating, self-interested robots led by incentives rather than any idea of public duty. The result was the opposite of freedom; new forms of control, greater inequalities and the return of a rigid class structure based on wealth.

What?! Give me a break, sheesh...

matt b
22-03-2007, 02:22 PM
vimothy, you really don't understand, do you?

go back to your friends who make comments like this:

"Linux is just an anarchy and we need to ensure that all computer motherboards sold prevent Linux from being installed. We need a licensing scheme, headed by the UN's World Intellectual Property Organization, for all programming tools so that only trusted individuals may use them, and that inappropriate use of them is communicated via the internet to the government. To put it simply, either Linux dies - or the whole of human creativity will become a stagnant swamp. Anyone who disagrees with this is a communist." (http://www.samizdata.net/blog/archives/_best_of_samizdatanet/)

vimothy
22-03-2007, 02:26 PM
vimothy, you really don't understand, do you?

go back to your friends who make comments like this:

"Linux is just an anarchy and we need to ensure that all computer motherboards sold prevent Linux from being installed. We need a licensing scheme, headed by the UN's World Intellectual Property Organization, for all programming tools so that only trusted individuals may use them, and that inappropriate use of them is communicated via the internet to the government. To put it simply, either Linux dies - or the whole of human creativity will become a stagnant swamp. Anyone who disagrees with this is a communist." (http://www.samizdata.net/blog/archives/_best_of_samizdatanet/)

No, no of course, I understand nothing - I wouldn't be able to see a joke if it were staring me in the face, for instance, even if it were explictly tagged HUMOUR.

[roflmao?]

matt b
22-03-2007, 02:28 PM
but its not funny, see?

vimothy
22-03-2007, 02:30 PM
I'm not laughing at the Samizdata post.

vimothy
22-03-2007, 02:38 PM
For Adam Curtis there is always a conspiracy to uncover, always a grand plot, a hand steering humanity down the road to ruin...

It's comforting.

Guybrush
22-03-2007, 02:40 PM
Vimothy: Since it’s very clear you haven’t seen any of the documentaries mentioned, I suggest you do that before commenting on how supposedly conspiratorial they are.

vimothy
22-03-2007, 02:49 PM
Well, I've actually have seen the Power of Nightmares and didn't think very much of that. Well written perhaps, well edited (definitely well edited), but still fairly silly (the stuff about Strauss is a good example of what I mean). That was a very conspiratorial programme.

As for the Trap, it's been pretty hard to ignore, what with all of the press and hype surrounding the series, though you are right, I haven't seen it. I don't see what difference watching it will make though - I think the summaries posted here sum up his argument pretty well. Game theory - libertarian economists - death of civc feeling - selfish capitalist country? What am I missing?

Guybrush
22-03-2007, 02:54 PM
Well, I've actually have seen the Power of Nightmares and didn't think very much of that. Well written perhaps, well edited (definitely well edited), but still fairly silly (the stuff about Strauss is a good example of what I mean). That was a very conspiratorial programme.

As for the Trap, it's been pretty hard to ignore, what with all of the press and hype surrounding the series, though you are right, I haven't seen it. I don't see what difference watching it will make though - I think the summaries posted here sum up his argument pretty well. Game theory - libertarian economists - death of civc feeling - selfish capitalist country? What am I missing?

What was your problem with how Leo Strauss was represented in The Power of Nightmares?

vimothy
22-03-2007, 03:16 PM
Right: Leo Strauss. This slightly ammends something I wrote elsewere.

Personally I think the whole Leo Strauss thing is overplayed as far as the neocons and politics goes. I watched the Power of Nightmares and have read Hersch (who I guess Curtis has read) and I know what is suggested, however there are a few things you should consider.

Regarding "noble lies" and myths, Strauss doesn't advocate their use so much as ask whether they are an inevitable necessity, that is to say he "does not bring to light the best possible regime but rather the nature of political things- the nature of the city." Strauss is not attempting to encourage sinister secret masonic cabals within government but is asking (in the context of political philosophy remember, not as a Washington think tank) whether it is possible for politicians to be completely honest and still act in the best interests of their constituents and society. He's not advocating an ideal, but examining politics as is. This is an important distinction which is glossed over in the Power of Nightmares. Strauss was a philosopher, not a politician.

It is also not necessarily the case that Strauss is the guiding light of the neocons. Wolfowitz studied at the university of Chicago and attended some classes taught by Strauss, but then I'm sure he would have attended classes taught by lots of people - why not attribute US foreign policy to some of his other lecturers? For instance, why not bring up Wohlstetter who also taught at the University of Chicago and was an influence on some now prominent neocons, incluiding Wolfowitz?

"The fact is that Strauss bequeathed not a single legacy, but a number of competing legacies. It is a gross distortion to retrofit Strauss’s teachings to conform to the agenda of the political Right. His writings on a wide range of subjects continue to spark lively debate among students in a host of fields."

-- Steven B. Smith

Would Curtis only describe neocons in the current administration as Straussian? What about the "socialists for Nixon", what about Podhoretz and earlier neocon writers back when people might actually describe themselves as neocon, rather than it being more of a pejorative term?

"Neo-conservatism is a term almost exclusively used by the enemies of America's liberation of Iraq. There is no "neo-conservative" movement in the United States. When there was one, it was made up of former Democrats who embraced the welfare state but supported Ronald Reagan's Cold War policies against the Soviet bloc."

-- David Horowitz

Ultimately, the idea that there is a secret group of people inventing wars to bring society together is, IMO, paranoid in the extreme. As sad as it is and as hard to accept by the human mind, society is governed by tiny, local-level interactions, not by informed super politicians pulling the strings in a James Bond villain style whilst enjoying cocktails and cigars in moutain hideouts. There is no 9/11 conspiracy (Straussian or Loose Changian), and there is no need to invent reactionary lunatics in love with death.

old goriot
22-03-2007, 03:47 PM
Strauss was a philosopher, not a politician.

Your post was pretty reasonable, except for this line of reasoning (his aim was philosophical, not political). Strauss conceived of himself and philosophers in general as having an active political role in society, and favoured an extremely politicized academia. He was quite overt about it.

vimothy
22-03-2007, 03:55 PM
He might have been highly politicised, but still, he wasn't a politician in the sense that Cheney or Clinton are (or whoever) - he was an academic. Wolfowitz sat two courses run by Strauss, one on Montesquieu's spirit of the laws and one on Plato's laws. Just classes, no conspiracy. Curtis basically knew how he wanted the neocons to appear and Strauss was a useful tool for that. I don't really see any difference between that and what he is saying in the Trap.

old goriot
22-03-2007, 04:01 PM
He might have been highly politicised, but still, he wasn't a politician in the sense that Cheney or Clinton are (or whoever) - he was an academic. Wolfowitz sat two courses run by Strauss, one on Montesquieu's spirit of the laws and one on Plato's laws. Just classes, no conspiracy. Curtis basically knew how he wanted the neocons to appear and Strauss was a useful tool for that. I don't really see any difference between that and what he is saying in the Trap.

yeah, all I'm saying is that (whether or not Wolfowitz took it to heart) Strauss openly advocated philosophical indoctrination within the academia as a means of exerting political power and shaping public policy outside of the academia.

You're right, it's not a conspiracy if he openly teaches these ideas, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be questioned when they do actually seep into politics i.e. the Bush administration's highly Platonic conception of politics

vimothy
22-03-2007, 04:03 PM
yeah, all I'm saying is that (whether or not Wolfowitz took it to heart) Strauss openly advocated philosophical indoctrination within the academia as a means of exerting political power and shaping public policy outside of the academia.

Got any links?

old goriot
22-03-2007, 04:08 PM
Got any links?

Not off the top of my head, but I have read Strauss and been taught by several well-known Straussians. I think I gave a pretty fair assessment of the man's views. I can look it up if you really want, but I'd rather not bother.

vimothy
22-03-2007, 04:14 PM
Not off the top of my head, but I have read Strauss and been taught by several well-known Straussians. I think I gave a pretty fair assessment of the man's views. I can look it up if you really want, but I'd rather not bother.

You don't have to look it up; what texts are you refering to?

old goriot
22-03-2007, 04:23 PM
You don't have to look it up; what texts are you refering to?

In the course I am thinking of we read parts of The History of Political Philosophy.

The thing is, you know that you are asking an impossible task of me. I cannot give textual evidence for Strauss's true beliefs because they are communicated esoterically, and are only properly understood by someone who is taught the meaning of his paradoxes by a Straussian, whose predecessors somewhere down the line were taught by Strauss himself.

Guybrush
22-03-2007, 05:55 PM
I find the argument over whether Strauss himself supported the use of ‘noble lies’ or not less interesting than whether the other claims made in the series are true. A few that I remember are: 1. that the communist and islamist threats were inflated to rally and ignite the masses behind the conservative cause; 2. that those threats were not as grave as was believed at the time, and that they were caving-in by themselves anyway (Soviet Union, roughly, throughout the 80s; islamism from the mid-90s onwards); 3. that some beliefs, common with conservatives (e.g. that Reagan brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union), therefore are foolish.

This all seems pretty obvious and non-conspiratorial to me. One could argue, as Gek-Opel seems to do, that Curtis deliberately disregard important sidetracks to create a more effective narrative, but that’s unavoidable if you set out to cover as broad a scope as he does.

vimothy
23-03-2007, 10:28 AM
I find the argument over whether Strauss himself supported the use of ‘noble lies’ or not less interesting than whether the other claims made in the series are true. A few that I remember are: 1. that the communist and islamist threats were inflated to rally and ignite the masses behind the conservative cause; 2. that those threats were not as grave as was believed at the time, and that they were caving-in by themselves anyway (Soviet Union, roughly, throughout the 80s; islamism from the mid-90s onwards); 3. that some beliefs, common with conservatives (e.g. that Reagan brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union), therefore are foolish.

I don't know why anyone would think that the collapse of the Soviet Union related to anything other than its inherent economic problems. But everything is easy with hindsight. For example, US economists working for the government actually over-estimated the power of the Soviet economy, working from the amount of steel used in their Armed Forces, but not paying attention to the quality of the steel. Lots of people thought that the USSR would win the Cold War. Obviously Curtis never had any doubts in the power of the west to see off the Communist threat, but personally I am glad other people took it more seriously. The USSR created a large Empire in neighbouring countries as well as spheres of influence around the world. It's frankly rather silly for Curtis to suggest that aggressive US foreign policies were the cause for (at least the later stages of) the Cold War. Isn't it?

So:
1. The threat was serious. The "cause" has nothing to do with being a conservative (who cares) and evertything to do with not wanting to see totalitarianism march across the earth. The same is true today.
2. "Threat" is a projection. If the DoD bought Soviet propaganda, they were not the only ones. The Soviet Union was self-destructing, however, very few people were actually aware of this. Ironically, Hayek (not a favourite of Curtis, apparently) was one of the few people who predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union - due to the dis-informative nature of the soviet pricing system (being proved right about the USSR is of course one of the reasons why the "neo-liberals" came to prominence after being ignored as weirdos for so many years). The Soviet Union was a danger to itself and to those other countries where it established Communist dictatoships, and to those countries were it fermented dissent. Curtis thinks that there was a conspiracy to exagerate this to the American people because the neocons wanted a noble lie to bind society together. Is that believable? It is pure conjecture, in any case. And not even good conjecture.
3. So what? Personally, I would have thought that good conservatives would be aware that the Soviet Union defeated itself because Communism is unworkable economically, not because of anything the US did, but, you know, I don't see why it matters. The important thing is that the totalitarianism didn't win.

In the Power of Nightmares, Curtis starts with half truths and conjecture, because he already knows what his conclusions will be: neoconservativism = al Qaeda. It's not even original.

(And can I ask: in what sense was Islamism caving in from the mid '90s onwards? Do you think then that the US is responsible for resuscitating it)?

hundredmillionlifetimes
24-03-2007, 12:19 AM
I don't know why anyone would think that the collapse of the Soviet Union related to anything other than its inherent economic problems.

But its collapse wasn't the result of economic problems, mush less inherent ones; it was entirely political, a direct result of Gorbachov's glasnost and perestroika in the 1980s .

Cuba has suffered from "inherent economic problems" for over forty years. Why hasn't it collapsed? The U.S. today is massively insolvent as an economic entity [unprecedented debts and deficits running into trillions]. Why hasn't it collapsed?



The USSR created a large Empire in neighbouring countries as well as spheres of influence around the world. It's frankly rather silly for Curtis to suggest that aggressive US foreign policies were the cause for (at least the later stages of) the Cold War. Isn't it?

Not at all silly, just historically correct [from McCarthyism to Korea, from the Bay of Pigs to Vietnam].


So:
1. The threat was serious.

You mean McCarthyism was "serious"?


3. So what? Personally, I would have thought that good conservatives would be aware that the Soviet Union defeated itself because Communism is unworkable economically, not because of anything the US did, but, you know, I don't see why it matters. The important thing is that the totalitarianism didn't win.

Communism [at least historically] is an [I]authoritarian system; neo-liberalism is a totalitarian system ...

Mr. Tea
25-03-2007, 10:48 PM
So, what did everyone think of Part 3? Rivetting (and worrying) stuff. I had no idea of the level of American involvement in the economic reforms in Russia in the early 90s, I have to say, and it's very depressing to think the same people are now involved in the 'restructuring' of Iraq.

Guybrush
25-03-2007, 11:09 PM
So, what did everyone think of Part 3? Rivetting (and worrying) stuff. I had no idea of the level of American involvement in the economic reforms in Russia in the early 90s, I have to say, and it's very depressing to think the same people are now involved in the 'restructuring' of Iraq.

I haven’t seen the last part yet, but I have read a few books on the Russian 90s. What I remember most vividly is how everyone involved cared more about making the reforms irrevocable than of how the reforms would affect the country in the short run. ‘Breaking the neck of the communists’, I think Jeltsin put it. That whole mess is one of the great disgraces in recent years. It is also largely responsible for the increased repression Russia has witnessed under Putin (without freeing him and his cabal from responsibility, of course) in that it undermined the ordinary Russian’s confidence in democratic institutions and ‘Western’ values.

Mr. Tea
25-03-2007, 11:17 PM
That's just what Curtis was saying: that Russians were so sick of the terrible economic instability and poverty that followed the fall of the old regime that they needed security more than they needed freedom (can you ever imagine your average American saying that?), that freedom of press and so on is not the primary concern of a man with no food to eat.

Guybrush
26-03-2007, 12:24 AM
(And can I ask: in what sense was Islamism caving in from the mid '90s onwards? Do you think then that the US is responsible for resuscitating it)?

Loads of things to reply to in your original message, but I will try to answer this one for now.

It’s important to separate islam from islamism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamism) (political islam) when discussing this topic. I’m sure you already knew this, but it’s worth repeating. The late 90s is considered a (recent) nadir for islamism because: the islamists effectively had lost the civil war in Algeria (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algerian_Civil_War); the 1997 massacre in Luxor (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/17_November_1997_Luxor_massacre) had triggered a harsh crackdown on islamists in Egypt; the election of the reformer Mohammad Khatami as president of Iran was seen as a defeat for religious dogmatism; the improved conditions in Israel-Palestine made the islamist’s inflammatory language less fertile.

That the U.S. has played a role in resuscitating islamism is undeniable, I would say. To which extent is debatable, of course, and to suggest that they have done it on purpose, even more so.

hundredmillionlifetimes
26-03-2007, 03:07 AM
Curtis finally gets to the rub ...

The excellent Part III [broadcast on 25th March 2007] of Adam Curtis' latest three-part BBC documentary series, The Trap.

http://www.thefirstpost.co.uk/opinion/2005/07/images/070312curtis.jpg http://clicheguevara.files.wordpress.com/2007/03/tradingfloor2.JPG

"The series argues that post-war Western society was lured away from collectivist models of social solidarity towards an individualistic and selfish concept of 'freedom' that is ultimately empty and destructive."

Watch part III here (real media format, 30mb):

The Trap – What Happened To Our Dream Of Freedom: We Will Force You to be Free (http://www.indybay.org/uploads/2007/03/25/3_we_will_force_you_to_be_free.rm)

[Sequence of topics: Isaiah Berlin, antagonisms of liberty, revolution, the French Revolution, Communism, the Soviet Union, Algeria and Franz Fanon/Gillies Pontecorvo/Jean-Paul Sartre, physical-force violence, Pol Pot/Kymer Rouge, Kissinger/real-politic, the U.S. neo-cons/"democratic revolutionaries", the 1979 Iranian Revolution and growth of militant Shia Islamism, 1980s U.S. neo-con moral crusade and token democracy ... (cue title soundtracks to NorthByNorthWest, Carrie, Assault on Precinct 13) ... Nicaragua and the Sandinistas vs Reagan's Contras, spin/PR and perception management, Iran/Contra, Soviet Collapse, Fukuyama, negative freedom utopianism, Russian state-assets violent sell-off/privatisation to elite oligarchy, Putin and nationalistic state security, Blairism, Kosovo and "humanitarian interventionism" ... 9/11 ... from Iraq and radical privatisation to chaos, preventionism and domestic , repression in US/UK, nihilistic reality principle - the trap: Berlin was wrong ...].

vimothy
26-03-2007, 10:28 AM
But its collapse wasn't the result of economic problems, mush less inherent ones; it was entirely political, a direct result of Gorbachov's glasnost and perestroika in the 1980s .

Right - it was the neo-liberals. I should have known really, it's always the fault of the neo-liberals. Probably acting with the support of their reptile masters from the planet Quarg. What is it with those guys, by the way? How come a few beardy, other-wise ignorable Mont Pelerin Society oddballs have managed to ruin humanity so conclusively?

Anyway, what you're saying is that the Soviet economy was strong and sustainable and that it could have continued along its merry way indefinitely had Gorbachov not betrayed it to the forces of neo-liberalism?


Cuba has suffered from "inherent economic problems" for over forty years. Why hasn't it collapsed? The U.S. today is massively insolvent as an economic entity [unprecedented debts and deficits running into trillions]. Why hasn't it collapsed?


Yeah, go on... why?


Not at all silly, just historically correct [from McCarthyism to Korea, from the Bay of Pigs to Vietnam].

What? The USA didn't "cause" the Cold War, it happened.


You mean McCarthyism was "serious"?

This has nothing to do with McCarthyism.


Communism [at least historically] is an [I]authoritarian system; neo-liberalism is a totalitarian system ...


Complete and utter bullshit. Absolute utter bullshit, your ridiculous caveat even more so. The USSR was a totalitarian dictatorship and it represents the exact opposite of everything I understand about freedom and liberty. "Neo-liberalism" is just a catchy pejorative phrase which you fling about in the place of reasoned argument. The classical liberalism of British and French tradition (if that's what you mean) is the antithesis of totalitarianism in every way, whereas true communist suppression of free markets and exchange of goods for personal profit is impossible without a system of totalitarian controls.

Guybrush
26-03-2007, 08:20 PM
Communism [at least historically] is an authoritarian system; neo-liberalism is a totalitarian system ...
Complete and utter bullshit. Absolute utter bullshit, your ridiculous caveat even more so. The USSR was a totalitarian dictatorship and it represents the exact opposite of everything I understand about freedom and liberty. "Neo-liberalism" is just a catchy pejorative phrase which you fling about in the place of reasoned argument. The classical liberalism of British and French tradition (if that's what you mean) is the antithesis of totalitarianism in every way, whereas true communist suppression of free markets and exchange of goods for personal profit is impossible without a system of totalitarian controls.

Actually, hundredmillionlifetimes was careful to get the nuances right here, as he writes ‘historically’ precisely to exclude the Soviet Union—I think.

Here is Wikipedia on Totalitarianism (an ok definition, if you ask me):


Totalitarianism is a term employed by some political scientists, especially those in the field of comparative politics, to describe modern regimes in which the state regulates nearly every aspect of public and private behavior.

While this word is seldom used to describe the U.S.A. of today, for example, it is not inconceivable that it could. For one thing, it depends on how you define ‘regulate’.

Mr. Tea
26-03-2007, 10:39 PM
Actually, hundredmillionlifetimes was careful to get the nuances right here, as he writes ‘historically’ precisely to exclude the Soviet Union—I think.


The USSR was founded nearly a hundred years ago. I'd call that pretty historic.



While this word is seldom used to describe the U.S.A. of today, for example, it is not inconceivable that it could. For one thing, it depends on how you define ‘regulate’.

I think you're letting him off the hook here. Surely the very definition of a 'neo-liberal' is someone who supports a free market with the minimum of state intervention? Think about that phrase - minimum of state intervention - doesn't sound very 'totalitarian', does it?
Not that it's necessarily the ideal economic/political system for promoting personal freedom, but it's certainly not 'totalitarian', however you look at it.

Guybrush
26-03-2007, 11:34 PM
Surely the very definition of a 'neo-liberal' is someone who supports a free market with the minimum of state intervention? Think about that phrase - minimum of state intervention - doesn't sound very 'totalitarian', does it?

But it’s how it works in practise that counts. I’m not entirely convinced by the argument, but I think it’s quite easy to grasp.

By the way, since we are judging communism by the actions commited in its name, we should apply that same principle to neo-liberalism. Thus, what neo-liberals claim is less interesting than what they do.

Mr. Tea
26-03-2007, 11:39 PM
Oh, I certainly wouldn't defend neo-liberalism, I'm well aware of the problems it's caused (more so, since Sunday night) - I'm just saying 'totalitarian' is an inaccurate description for it. Something can be bad without being totalitarian - look at (democratic) Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, for example.

By the way, what do you mean by 'totalizing', tht?

Guybrush
26-03-2007, 11:55 PM
Oh, I certainly wouldn't defend neo-liberalism, I'm well aware of the problems it's caused (more so, since Sunday night) - I'm just saying 'totalitarian' is an inaccurate description for it. Something can be bad without being totalitarian - look at (democratic) Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, for example.

By the way, what do you mean by 'totalizing', tht?

Yes, I agree. My history teacher viewed authoritarianism and totalitarianism as differing only in how much control the authorities sought to have over the citizens’ personal life. With the latter, they sought total control; with the former, they contented themselves with making sure the citizens didn’t challenge the political status quo. This is a very loose definition, but I find it quite useful.

Mr. Tea
27-03-2007, 12:07 AM
Sounds like a good definition to me.

The avatar is a great improvement, incidentally!

Guybrush
27-03-2007, 12:12 AM
They discussed the usage here (http://nkzone.typepad.com/nkzone/2004/05/authoritarian_v.html):


Thanks to James Chen for pointing out a letter to the editor printed recently in the Washington Post. The writer reprimands the authors for referring to the North Korea government as "authoritarian" in a recent article.

Mr. Chen comments:
"The use of the label "authoritarian" could be an honest error in judgment. But surely, they must have missed fellow WaPo reporter Anne Applebaum's recent commentary on North Korea ("Auschwitz Under Our Noses").

What do you think? Please hit the comments link and share your views.


I agree with the letter. I also winced when I saw their use of the word 'authoritarian'. The difference between 'authoritarianism' and 'totalitarianism' is that under the latter, the government attempts to control not only the actions of its people, but also their thoughts. See rickross.com for a good description of the kind of totalitarianism we see in North Korea..(which is derived from Chinese 'thought reform' methods).
See http://www.rickross.com/reference/brainwashing/brainwashing19.html
(and MANY other valuable insights into cultic behavior posted on the rickross.com site.)
Some 'highlights' - One must be a member of the group to be seen as worthy of life and life support. (a scarce resource) Those outside the group must be penalized, and ostracized. Membership in the group is something that one must attain through active 'worship', the default is to be an outsider. (To think the wrong thoughts might easily make this behavior nearly impossible, so people control their own thoughts in a sensible attempt at self-preservation.) So the term 'bad thinking' would be a hallmark of a totalitarian regime. And the default would be to be seen 'outside' of the group. Many cults as well as many corporate environments (particularly ones in which a destructive mindset is necessary to profit, I'm thinking of the tobacco industry as described by a friend who used to work in the Philip Morris advertising agency) as well as even elements of our own society - (look at the right's coordinated attempts at character assasination of critics through the media - the so-called 'attack dogs' that they are able to mobilize so effectively!) are like this, and so are totalitarian governments. Also, the mindset of the nuclear weapons industry is by necessity fairly cultlike..a cult of death. (At least it used to be, as documented very skillfully by Robert J. Lifton in his book "The Genocidal Mentality" - which should be required reading for anyone studying North Korea)

Indeed, in totalitarian countries like North Korea, China under Mao - and even today, and Stalinist Russia, one could be imprisoned not just for one did, but for something one said or did not do..or if they could ascertain it, even thought.

Many societies, including our own, show elements of totalitarian behavior from time to time. This is not new, but it should make us nervous because a society that practices totalism is a society prone to over-rigid thinking, and thereby, by definition, if not already, soon to be a society in decline. [...]

Mr. Tea
27-03-2007, 12:29 AM
I want to read what's on that that NKZone website but it's making my eyes bleed. :(

Intersting stuff. I'd certainly say that both the Bush and Blair administrations have authoritarian tendencies; the attempts to introduce ID cards and the new passport legislation are just some of the most recent examples. But I'd say we're a long way from anything like actual totalitarianism - the very fact we can sit here and have this conversation without fear of an ominous knock at the door at 5 a.m. is proof of that, I think.

In fact is pisses me off no end when people use terms like 'totalitarian' and 'fascist' to describe regimes like those in the US and UK at the moment - sure, they have their faults and then some, but using terms like that just makes one look hysterical and childish, not to mention being frankly insulting to the people who've been oppressed by states that genuinely deserve descriptions like that, in the past or currently.

hundredmillionlifetimes
27-03-2007, 01:49 AM
Anyway, what you're saying is that the Soviet economy was strong and sustainable and that it could have continued along its merry way indefinitely had Gorbachov not betrayed it to the forces of neo-liberalism?

No, what I said was that its collapse was due to the political, not the economic.



The USSR was a totalitarian dictatorship and it represents the exact opposite of everything I understand about freedom and liberty...

From The Two Totalitarianisms [Slavoj Zizek, LRB: Vol. 27 No. 6 dated 17 March 2005]:


It is here that one has to make a choice. The ‘pure’ liberal attitude towards Leftist and Rightist ‘totalitarianism’ – that they are both bad, based on the intolerance of political and other differences, the rejection of democratic and humanist values etc – is a priori false. It is necessary to take sides and proclaim Fascism fundamentally ‘worse’ than Communism. The alternative, the notion that it is even possible to compare rationally the two totalitarianisms, tends to produce the conclusion – explicit or implicit – that Fascism was the lesser evil, an understandable reaction to the Communist threat. When, in September 2003, Silvio Berlusconi provoked a violent outcry with his observation that Mussolini, unlike Hitler, Stalin or Saddam Hussein, never killed anyone, the true scandal was that, far from being an expression of Berlusconi’s idiosyncrasy, his statement was part of an ongoing project to change the terms of a postwar European identity hitherto based on anti-Fascist unity. That is the proper context in which to understand the European conservatives’ call for the prohibition of Communist symbols.

And, on the distinction between “formal” and “actual” freedom and liberty, where “formal” freedom is the freedom of choice WITHIN the coordinates of the existing power relations, while “actual” freedom designates the site of an intervention which undermines these very coordinates:


Let us take the situation in the Eastern European countries around 1990, when Really Existing Socialism was falling apart: all of a sudden, people were thrown into a situation of the “freedom of political choice” — however, were they REALLY at any point asked the fundamental question of what kind of new order they actually wanted? Is it not that they found themselves in the exact situation of the subject-victim of a Beauvois experiment? They were first told that they were entering the promised land of political freedom; then, soon afterwards, they were informed that this freedom involved wild privatization, the dismantling of the system of social security, etc. etc. — they still have the freedom to choose, so if they want, they can step out; but, no, our heroic Eastern Europeans didn’t want to disappoint their Western mentors, they stoically persisted in the choice they never made, convincing themselves that they should behave as mature subjects who are aware that freedom has its price … This is why the notion of the psychological subject endowed with natural propensities, who has to realize its true Self and its potentials, and who is, consequently, ultimately responsible for his failure or success, is the key ingredient of liberal freedom. And here one should risk reintroducing the Leninist opposition of “formal” and “actual” freedom: in an act of actual freedom, one dares precisely to BREAK the seductive power of symbolic efficiency. Therein resides the moment of truth of Lenin’s acerbic retort to his Menshevik critics: the truly free choice is a choice in which I do not merely choose between two or more options WITHIN a pre-given set of coordinates, but I choose to change this set of coordinates itself The catch of the “transition” from Really Existing Socialism to capitalism was that people never had the chance to choose the ad quem of this transition — all of a sudden, they were (almost literally) “thrown” into a new situation in which they were presented with a new set of given choices (pure liberalism, nationalist conservatism … ). What this means is that the “actual freedom” as the act of consciously changing this set occurs only when, in the situation of a forced choice, one ACTS AS IF THE CHOICE IS NOT FORCED and “chooses the impossible.”

RE: Zizek's reference, above, to the subject-victim Beauvois experiment [also interesting, as Beauvois also elaborates on the distinctions between totalitarian-authoritarian-liberal]:


Let us say that an individual is first asked to participate in an experiment that concerns changing eating habits in order to fight against famine; then, after agreeing to do it, at the first encounter in the laboratory, he will be asked to swallow a living worm, with the explicit reminder that, if he finds this act repulsive, he can, of course, say no, since he has the complete freedom to choose. In most cases, he will do it, and then rationalize it by way of saying to himself something like: “What I am asked to do IS disgusting, but I am not a coward, 1 should display some courage and self-control, otherwise scientists will perceive me as a weak person who pulls out at the first minor obstacle! Furthermore, a worm does have a lot of proteins and it could effectively be used to feed the poor; who am 1 to hinder such an important experiment because of my petty sensitivity? And, finally, maybe my disgust of worms is just a prejudice, maybe a worm is not so bad — and would tasting it not be a new and daring experience? What if it will enable me to discover an unexpected, slightly perverse, dimension of myself that 1 was hitherto unaware of?”

Beauvois enumerates three modes of what brings people to accomplish such an act which runs against their perceived propensities and/or interests: authoritarian (the pure command “You should do it because I say so, without questioning it!”, sustained by the reward if the subject does it and the punishment if he does not do it), totalitarian (the reference to some higher Cause or common Good which is larger than the subject’s perceived interest: “You should do it because, even if it is unpleasant, it serves our Nation, Party, Humanity!”), and liberal (the reference to the subject’s inner nature itself. “What is asked of you may appear repulsive, but look deep into yourself and you will discover that it’s in your true nature to do it, you will find it attractive, you will become aware of new, unexpected, dimensions of your personality!”).

[ ... ]

The three ways of legitimizing the exercise of authority (“authoritarian,” “totalitarian,” “liberal”) are nothing but three ways of covering up, of blinding us to the seductive power of the abyss of this empty call [of the symbolic efficiency of the empty Master Signifier]. In a way, liberalism is here even the worst of the three, since it NATURALIZES the reasons for obedience into the subject’s internal psychological structure. So the paradox is that “liberal” subjects are in a way those least free: they change the very opinion/perception of themselves, accepting what was IMPOSED on them as originating in their “nature” — they are even no longer AWARE of their subordination.

Mr. Tea
27-03-2007, 03:46 AM
Here we go again - the citizen of the liberal democracy merely thinks he is freer than the subject of the fascist/communist/theocratic dictatorship, because of a cunning psychological ruse by the crypto-totalitarian government, etc. etc. etc.

No true liberal would say "You will discover..." anything; he might say "You may discover..." such-and-such, because there is a tradition that has become deeply entrenched in our society that it's good to find things that you're good at, persue them and, as far as possible, find employment that utilises those skills. Of course it doesn't always work out that way because some people are more skilled (or simply lucky) than others and we need far more street sweepers than we do rock stars and footballers, but the principle remains that you can, to a greater extent than most other societies, create the role that you choose to play in society.

Quite what any of this has to do with eating worms I'm not sure. What happened in the former Soviet bloc when neo-'liberal' economics was enforced on them was a (socially) illiberal act because it destabilised their economies which resulted in a huge reduction in personal liberty for most people: hence authoritarian Putin's rise to power. Surely it's not controversial to suggest that a system that maximises liberty for businesses doesn't necessarily maximise liberty for individual people?

vimothy
27-03-2007, 09:33 AM
Got a bit to read through before I stick my oar in, but can I just ask a question (I think it's important): who do we mean when we say "neo-liberals"?

vimothy
27-03-2007, 09:44 AM
No, what I said was that its collapse was due to the political, not the economic.

Explain yourself then - do you agree that the Soviet economy was a disaster? Why was it a disaster? Had political pressure not been applied by the neo-whoevers, would the USSR still be in existence today? And just out of interest, would you like to have lived in the USSR?

vimothy
27-03-2007, 09:54 AM
Actually, hundredmillionlifetimes was careful to get the nuances right here, as he writes ‘historically’ precisely to exclude the Soviet Union—I think.

I disasgree - and I think that hundredmillionlifetimes writes "historically" because he's trying to suggest that really communism is a humane and rational ideology, but that historically it's unfortunately been rather "authoritarian" and killed a lot of people and all that.

In fact communism has been totalitarian where tried because that's what it is - totalitarian, and there's no need to qualify it by saying that it's only been totalitarian historically, as though there were some glorious communism waiting just around the corner if only we could abondon the "state capitalist" models and try real communism.

vimothy
27-03-2007, 10:11 AM
It is here that one has to make a choice. The ‘pure’ liberal attitude towards Leftist and Rightist ‘totalitarianism’ – that they are both bad, based on the intolerance of political and other differences, the rejection of democratic and humanist values etc – is a priori false. It is necessary to take sides and proclaim Fascism fundamentally ‘worse’ than Communism. The alternative, the notion that it is even possible to compare rationally the two totalitarianisms, tends to produce the conclusion – explicit or implicit – that Fascism was the lesser evil, an understandable reaction to the Communist threat....

I don't believe any of Zizeck's reading of recent history. Communism isn't worse than fascism and it isn't better - they're both the same stupid 20th Century impulse with different haircuts. And I think the typical general conclusion of people comparing the two is the same as Zizeck's - that communism is the lesser and more understandable evil. The man is, IMHO, an idiot.

What are the differences that make communism a "better" totalitarianism than fascism? And are these the differences that sell books and films to a trendy globalised pomo audience, by any chance?

vimothy
27-03-2007, 10:12 AM
Double post

Mr. Tea
27-03-2007, 01:34 PM
Communism isn't worse than fascism and it isn't better - they're both the same stupid 20th Century impulse with different haircuts.

Exactamundo. Religion says: worship God. Fascism says: worship the Race, the Nation, the Leader. Communism says: worship the People, the Proletariat. Whenever people get caught up in worshipping an abstract entity to the exclusion of all rationality you always get the same result: oppression, dehumanisation, totalitarianism.



What are the differences that make communism a "better" totalitarianism than fascism? And are these the differences that sell books and films to a trendy globalised pomo audience, by any chance?

Heh heh, reminds me of this darling little boutique I saw in Notting Hill that was selling these delightfully ironic-kitsch embroidered cushions decorated with portraits of Chairman Mao. Groovy, baby!

vimothy
27-03-2007, 02:15 PM
Exactamundo. Religion says: worship God. Fascism says: worship the Race, the Nation, the Leader. Communism says: worship the People, the Proletariat. Whenever people get caught up in worshipping an abstract entity to the exclusion of all rationality you always get the same result: oppression, dehumanisation, totalitarianism.

Paul Berman's Terror and Liberalism is great for tracing this nihilistic impulse back through European history, examining what separates the totalitarian from the authoritarian - an important distinction to make - and considering its rising appeal.

"The true saint is he who whips and kills the people for the good of the people." (Baudelaire)


Heh heh, reminds me of this darling little boutique I saw in Notting Hill that was selling these delightfully ironic-kitsch embroidered cushions decorated with portraits of Chairman Mao. Groovy, baby!

And you don't get too many embroidered cushions with Hitler's face on!

vimothy
27-03-2007, 02:31 PM
Here is Wikipedia on Totalitarianism (an ok definition, if you ask me):


Quote:
Totalitarianism is a term employed by some political scientists, especially those in the field of comparative politics, to describe modern regimes in which the state regulates nearly every aspect of public and private behavior.

While this word is seldom used to describe the U.S.A. of today, for example, it is not inconceivable that it could. For one thing, it depends on how you define ‘regulate’.

I can draw two possible conclusions from this:
1. You're right: the US government is totalitarian insofar at it interfers with its own internal markets and the choices and decisions of its citizens, i.e. insofar as the US Administration practices anti-(classical)liberal, statist policies it is totalitarian. From your definition of totalitarianism we should be able to see that what is called "neo-liberalism" is the opposite of totalitarianism.
2. You're wrong: the US government does not regulate every aspect of the lives of its citizens, the massive legal framework provides general rules which enable connection and interplay of different groupings and entities, with lots of detail for the specifics. Things happen which happen anyway, the "shadow of the law" simply codifies established norms. This is because the law arises out of a strong social contract - unlike in totalitarian regimes. In any case, there is nothing like a "total" or "totalising" extremist ideology which seeks access to and control over every aspect of society active in the USA today - and it's a bit daft to suggest otherwise.

Mr. Tea
27-03-2007, 02:38 PM
And you don't get too many embroidered cushions with Hitler's face on!

Exactly. (And WHY NOT, is what I want to know? I think it'd be quite cool...)

I saw a guy once, in London, wearing a tee-shirt with a picture of Stalin on it. The classic Soviet-propaganda image of him as this benign-yet-mighty father-figure. What a fucking dick. :slanted:

Guybrush
27-03-2007, 07:58 PM
Vimothy, you misinterpreted Žižek earlier. You should read the whole text to get the context it was written in.

The Two Totalitarianisms (http://www.lrb.co.uk/v27/n06/print/zize01_.html)

Here is Žižek again (http://lacan.com/zizhooray.htm):


In 1979, in her essay "Dictators and Double Standards", Jeanne Kirkpatrick elaborated the distinction between "authoritarian" and "totalitarian" regimes which served as the justification for the US policy of collaborating with rightist dictators while attempting to destabilise Communist regimes: authoritarian dictators are pragmatic rulers who care about their power and wealth and are indifferent to ideological issues, even if they pay lip service to some big idea. In contrast, totalitarian leaders are selfless ideological fanatics who are ready to put everything at stake for their ideals. Authoritarian rulers react rationally and predictably to material and military threats - they can be dealt with. Totalitarian leaders are much more dangerous and have to be confronted directly. The irony is that this distinction perfectly encapsulates what went wrong with the US occupation of Iraq: Saddam was a corrupt authoritarian dictator guided by brutal pragmatic considerations. The US intervention has generated a much more uncompromising, "fundamentalist" opposition which rejects pragmatic compromises.

hundredmillionlifetimes
28-03-2007, 03:39 AM
Explain yourself then - do you agree that the Soviet economy was a disaster? Why was it a disaster? Had political pressure not been applied by the neo-whoevers, would the USSR still be in existence today? And just out of interest, would you like to have lived in the USSR?

I think you really need to retrace your steps with respect to this thread.

In a previous post, you originally made the claim that you "don't know why anyone would think that the collapse of the Soviet Union related to anything other than its inherent economic problems", in other words, you confessed to your ignorance of all analyses that demonstrate that the Soviet Union's collapse was the result of forces other than domestic economic contingencies. I then pointed out that the Soviet collapse "wasn't the result of economic problems, mush less inherent ones; it was entirely political, a direct result of Gorbachov's glasnost and perestroika in the 1980s , " and further emphasising this by reference to Cuba and the U.S., two countries, like many others, with "inherent economic problems", when I stated that "Cuba has suffered from "inherent economic problems" for over forty years. Why hasn't it collapsed? The U.S. today is massively insolvent as an economic entity [unprecedented debts and deficits running into trillions]. Why hasn't it collapsed?" The point being that economic problems, however severe, never precipitate the complete collapse of the entire state ideological apparatus of the so afflicted country [from Zimbabwe to Afghanistan].

But instead of trying to assimilate the above you instead then responded with a total red herring, with non-sequiters, with false claims about what I actually said: "Anyway, what you're saying is that the Soviet economy was strong and sustainable and that it could have continued along its merry way indefinitely had Gorbachov not betrayed it to the forces of neo-liberalism?"

And when I again in response re-affirmed what I had previously stated - "No, what I said was that its collapse was due to the political, not the economic" - you immediately (above quoted) deflected from the issue via aggressive, nonsensical interrogative questioning, viz "Explain yourself then - do you agree that the Soviet economy was a disaster?" Again, the topic was [I]the basis for the collapse of the Soviet Union, not subjectivist judgements about the state of its economy at that time.

As for your own unexamined remarks about Žižek - an "idiot", etc - perhaps you might do yourself a favour by actually beginning an attempt to comprehend his arguments before spectacularly exhibiting your near-terminal idiocy on this forum.

But you already know that, don't you ... ?

vimothy
28-03-2007, 09:47 AM
[sighs...]

Aaaargggggghhhh - just explain what you mean! I don't need to hear a run-down of the entire bloody conversation, I just want you to explain yourself!

vimothy
28-03-2007, 09:57 AM
Vimothy, you misinterpreted Žižek earlier. You should read the whole text to get the context it was written in.

The Two Totalitarianisms (http://www.lrb.co.uk/v27/n06/print/zize01_.html)

Hmmm...

vimothy
28-03-2007, 10:34 AM
I think you really need to retrace your steps with respect to this thread.


What about going into more depth, could we do that instead?


In a previous post, you originally made the claim that you "don't know why anyone would think that the collapse of the Soviet Union related to anything other than its inherent economic problems", in other words, you confessed to your ignorance of all analyses that demonstrate that the Soviet Union's collapse was the result of forces other than domestic economic contingencies.

Where are these analyses? What do they say?

The USSR is a failed experiment - it didn't fail because of Gorbachov or "neo-liberalism" (whatever the hell you mean by that), it failed because women had to traipse around cities queing for hours for cotton wool instead of sanitary towels, because of the amount of time it took to get a car, because getting what you wanted depended on who you knew, because of the lack of incentive, because Soviet production was stuck eternally in the extensive phase and never made it to the intensive phase where real improvements to goods take place, because the lack of a freely set price where supply and demand curves meet meant that it was impossible to judge efficiency, to judge supply, to judge demand... blah, blah, blah


I then pointed out that the Soviet collapse "wasn't the result of economic problems, mush less inherent ones; it was entirely political, a direct result of Gorbachov's glasnost and perestroika in the 1980s , " and further emphasising this by reference to Cuba and the U.S., two countries, like many others, with "inherent economic problems", when I stated that "Cuba has suffered from "inherent economic problems" for over forty years. Why hasn't it collapsed? The U.S. today is massively insolvent as an economic entity [unprecedented debts and deficits running into trillions]. Why hasn't it collapsed?" The point being that economic problems, however severe, never precipitate the complete collapse of the entire state ideological apparatus of the so afflicted country [from Zimbabwe to Afghanistan].

I know you said that.

I want to talk about Soviet economics - it must be expensive to run an empire, right? Cuba, Afghanistan, they don't have quite the same outgoings as the USSR, which ran, for instance, a huge army with a massive aresnal of weapons. If the price of goods, materials and "constant capital" (lol) is set by a bureaucratic body (like Gosplan), how can you judge whether you can afford any of it? How can you judge when steel is not the right material to use and you should go onto something else? How can you judge whether your AK-47 factory is in the right part of the empire, or whether somewhere else would be more efficient? These are the problems which slowly and inorexably impoverished the USSR.

Why did Gorbachov initiate glasnost and perestroika in the first place?


But instead of trying to assimilate the above you instead then responded with a total red herring, with non-sequiters, with false claims about what I actually said: "Anyway, what you're saying is that the Soviet economy was strong and sustainable and that it could have continued along its merry way indefinitely had Gorbachov not betrayed it to the forces of neo-liberalism?"


Ok, and I'll try again: was the Soviet economy strong enough to continue indefinitely? Would the Soviet Union have been able to sustain itself if Gorbachov hadn't "incubated by political means the neo-liberal ideology"?


And when I again in response re-affirmed what I had previously stated - "No, what I said was that its collapse was due to the political, not the economic" - you immediately (above quoted) deflected from the issue via aggressive, nonsensical interrogative questioning, viz "Explain yourself then - do you agree that the Soviet economy was a disaster?" Again, the topic was [I]the basis for the collapse of the Soviet Union, not subjectivist judgements about the state of its economy at that time.

I'm trying to establish whether or not you agree that the Soviet economy was a disaster. We are talking about the collapse of the USSR, I believe that its collapse was economic in nature. It's relevant to the discussion because that's what we're discussing. You say it's political - ok, so where do you fit the Soviet economy in to all that?


As for your own unexamined remarks about Žižek - an "idiot", etc - perhaps you might do yourself a favour by actually beginning an attempt to comprehend his arguments before spectacularly exhibiting your near-terminal idiocy on this forum.

But you already know that, don't you ... ?

Psycholanalysts bring me out in a rash (of course).

vimothy
28-03-2007, 11:04 AM
Vimothy, you misinterpreted Žižek earlier. You should read the whole text to get the context it was written in.

The Two Totalitarianisms (http://www.lrb.co.uk/v27/n06/print/zize01_.html)

Here is Žižek again (http://lacan.com/zizhooray.htm):

Did I really misinterpret Zizek? What did I miss?

I think that it's really fair enough for people in ex-communist countries in Europe to want to treat the symbols of communism as they treat the symbols of nazism. Isn't it? Is it really part of a plot to redefine European identity along anti-communist rather than anti-fascist lines? Should the impluse to condem communism be regarded as we regard Berlusconi's defense of Mussolini?

Even the quote from Lacan.com misses the point: Saddam was a totalitarian ruler (just check the kitsch madness of the pictures: Saddam as Saladin, Saddam the pious muslim, Saddam the mischievous rake, Saddam the kind father, Saddam the military leader, etc) and the US didn't generate the fundamentalist opposition - they existed already.

Guybrush
28-03-2007, 12:29 PM
Did I really misinterpret Zizek? What did I miss?

I think that it's really fair enough for people in ex-communist countries in Europe to want to treat the symbols of communism as they treat the symbols of nazism. Isn't it? Is it really part of a plot to redefine European identity along anti-communist rather than anti-fascist lines? Should the impluse to condem communism be regarded as we regard Berlusconi's defense of Mussolini?

Even the quote from Lacan.com misses the point: Saddam was a totalitarian ruler (just check the kitsch madness of the pictures: Saddam as Saladin, Saddam the pious muslim, Saddam the mischievous rake, Saddam the kind father, Saddam the military leader, etc) and the US didn't generate the fundamentalist opposition - they existed already.

Not really misinterpret, but hundredmillionlifetimes only posted the last paragraph of the text, so the context was lost. Your opinion is fairly common, and so is, what seems to be, Žižek’s notion: as nazism is more ‘evil’ than communism in theory (the superiority of some races over others, etc.), it’s inherently worse than communism, regardless of their similarities in practice. I don’t know if I agree. However, if we were to pit socialism against nazism, I think you would find very few who would claim them to be equally ‘bad’.

My opinion on laws banning offensive symbols is simple: I dislike them no matter how benevolent they are.

I would call Saddam an authoritarian, but it’s a borderline case, yes.

vimothy
28-03-2007, 03:06 PM
Parody of Curtis over at normblog:



....[Shots of napalm bombs exploding in Vietnam, football hooligans, Beatlemania, laboratory footage of viruses multiplying]

Voice over (just about audible):
The confidence generated by accessing random shots from library film enabled a little known group to suggest that random events in popular culture were not merely symptoms of the crises of late capitalism, but were, in fact, the cause of momentous changes in modern political history.

[Shots of Trooping the Colour, car bombs exploding in Baghdad, holiday makers in Blackpool, freemasons wearing regalia]....

http://normblog.typepad.com/normblog/2007/03/the_history_of_.html

Mr. Tea
28-03-2007, 03:47 PM
As for your own unexamined remarks about Žižek - an "idiot", etc - perhaps you might do yourself a favour by actually beginning an attempt to comprehend his arguments before spectacularly exhibiting your near-terminal idiocy on this forum.


Oops, that's torn it! Someone's dissed one of postmodernism's holy cows, so out come the personal insults...

Edit: and for what it's worth I think vimothy's comment was perfectly justified. You have a habit of quoting other people's arguments - one or two paragraphs - and then when someone voices an opinion on that writer you scream "IGNORAMUS! How DARE you pass comment on this writer as you haven't read his entire works, etc. etc.". Well I think it's prefectly reasonable to pass comment on a few lines of text if that's all you're given to read - if the writer's words should be read in context, then it behoves you not to present them out of context. As it happens, I think Zizek's assertion, viz. 'most people think fascism is less bad than communism', is utter arse. So-called 'Soviet chic' is used to advertise everything from vodka to mobile phones these days, in case you hadn't noticed. Don't see too much 'Nazi chic'. do you? No-one believes fascism was the 'lesser evil', even though the total number of unnatural deaths caused globally, directly and indirectly, by communism is probably higher than that caused by fascism. And if vimothy has extensively read Zizek, it gives him even more of a right to call him an idiot if that's how he feels about the man's ideas. You come across as extremely arrogant in your constant assertions that anyone who disagree with one of your po-mo darlings has simply failed to understand them. It is, believe it or not, possible to understand someone's arguments and to disagree with them as a result.

vimothy
28-03-2007, 04:16 PM
Oops, that's torn it! Someone's dissed one of postmodernism's holy cows, so out come the personal insults...

Alain Badiou is a big fat wanker!

BTW and for what it's worth, I feel that I have read enough Zizeck (and seen enough of his - thoroughly revolutionary, naturally - programmes) to have an opinion of the man and his work - it's idiotic, fun and fashionable maybe (I do love his accent and his lisp and his dishevelled intellectual look), but it's idiotic.

Guybrush
28-03-2007, 06:35 PM
One thing I found bewildering about the Fascism vs Communism discussion was if he by Fascism meant Mussolini’s Fascist Italy (which most people, arguably, think was ‘less bad’ than Soviet), or Fascism as a general ideology. As some scholars argue that Nazism should be labelled a Fascist ideology, he also could have indirectly referred to that. As I said: confusing.

Regarding your having read Žižek: there is a stark difference between reading a text with ideological blinkers, and approaching it unprejudicedly. You cannot expect it to disclose itself if you read it as the Devil reads the Bible.

Mr. Tea
28-03-2007, 07:38 PM
But Žížë'k seems to be claiming that anyone who tries to compare fascism with communism (as many have done, especially in those parts of Europe unfortunate enough to have been shat on by both) is necessarily drawn to the conclusion that fascism was somehow 'less bad', as it was 'an understandable reaction to the communist threat'. But communism *saved* Europe - well, Western Europe, at any rate - in WWII: surely without the Eastern Front to distract and ultimately ruin Hitler (which would presumably have been the case if the he hadn't violated the Soviet-Nazi non-aggression pact) he'd have been able to turn the full might of the Wehrmacht on the Western Front? Even with American help, things would have looked distinctly shady for Britain in that case.

Guybrush
28-03-2007, 08:10 PM
But Žížë'k seems to be claiming that anyone who tries to compare fascism with communism (as many have done, especially in those parts of Europe unfortunate enough to have been shat on by both) is necessarily drawn to the conclusion that fascism was somehow 'less bad', as it was 'an understandable reaction to the communist threat'. Bit communism *saved* Europe - well, Western Europe, at any rate - in WWII: surely without the Eastern Front to distract and ultimately ruin him (which would have been the case if the Hitler hadn't violated the Soviet-Nazi non-aggression pact) he'd have been able to turn the full might of the Wehrmacht on the Western Front? Even with American help, things would have looked distinctly shady for Britain in that case.

Whew, that’s a knotty question to answer. I didn’t think of that. I guess you question is something like this: does the Soviet Union’s contribution to the defeat of the Axis Powers make it ‘less evil’ than Fascist Italy, despite the latter being ‘less evil’ if the two are compared solely on domestic grounds? I really have no idea. :confused:

Mr. Tea
28-03-2007, 08:39 PM
Well I wasn't talking about fascist Italy per se, I was talking about fascism generally. The fact that the Soviets helped defeat Nazi Germany certainly made them useful to the Western Allies, that's for sure; I wouldn't say it makes them any less 'bad', in terms of what the Soviets did to their own people, and the Eastern European countries they effectively annexed. In fact, the crimes of Mussolini's Italy surely pale in comparison next to those of Stalin's USSR.

I think what it comes down to is that communism - or should that be Communism? - at least as an ideology sets out to improve people's lives by freeing them of the yoke of capitalist oppression, to use specifically Communist terminology. Fascism, by contrast, does what it says on the tin: it's self-admittedly all about nationalism, militarism, totalitarianism and other things that right-thinking (although not far-Right thinking!) people generally consider Very Bad Indeed.

While not too many people still call themselves Communists (outside of, say, North Korea and the Spartacist League), many still describe themselves as socialists, Marxists or Marxist-Leninists. You won't find too many people who will call themselves fascists these days; it's effectively become exclusively a perjorative term.

And on a final note, it seems Mussolini's granddaughter (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alessandra_Mussolini) is a neo-Fascist politician who looks like an Essex slapper and appeared in a 1983 edition of Playboy. Nice tits, mind you. :)

vimothy
29-03-2007, 10:24 AM
One thing I found bewildering about the Fascism vs Communism discussion was if he by Fascism meant Mussolini’s Fascist Italy (which most people, arguably, think was ‘less bad’ than Soviet), or Fascism as a general ideology. As some scholars argue that Nazism should be labelled a Fascist ideology, he also could have indirectly referred to that. As I said: confusing.

Well, I took him to mean both, but really to be talking about fascism in the wider sense (including Nazi Germany and so on).


Regarding your having read Žižek: there is a stark difference between reading a text with ideological blinkers, and approaching it unprejudicedly. You cannot expect it to disclose itself if you read it as the Devil reads the Bible.

So, I can't read him at all then? That doesn't seem right to me. Of course, one should be open-minded with respect to the views of people on the other side of the political spectrum, but I don't see how I can avoid your devil reading the bible problem. Don't you want to be able to read things by, say, "neo-liberals" and criticise them? Don't we all read things with ideological blinkers?

I like Zizek as a fantasist (like Freud really), but I do think psychoanalysis is a bit daft ("the tunnel is mummy... the train is daddy..." etc) and not the basis for a sensible politics. Zizek is an apologist for totalitarianism (check his paean to Lenin for e.g.), but then, so was Ezra Pound, and I still read bits of the Cantos and enjoy them.

Basically, the stuff which comes from psychoanalysis is voodoo, and his politics are irresponsible in the extreme.

vimothy
29-03-2007, 10:35 AM
I think what it comes down to is that communism - or should that be Communism? - at least as an ideology sets out to improve people's lives by freeing them of the yoke of capitalist oppression, to use specifically Communist terminology. Fascism, by contrast, does what it says on the tin: it's self-admittedly all about nationalism, militarism, totalitarianism and other things that right-thinking (although not far-Right thinking!) people generally consider Very Bad Indeed.

Fascism also sets out to improve people's lives by freeing them from capitalist oppression, and also contains healthy doses of socialist economics (all about control). Like communism, fascism is a reaction to the big, bad, scarily pointless modern world, which provides a grand, catch-all solution which everyone can (must!) believe in, an Ur-myth and a scapegoat to blame. Lots of modern day fascists are anti-capitalist, malthusian ecologist types, who want to return to simpler peasant like nobility and union with the land.

Mr. Tea
29-03-2007, 02:56 PM
Fascism also sets out to improve people's lives by freeing them from capitalist oppression, and also contains healthy doses of socialist economics (all about control). Like communism, fascism is a reaction to the big, bad, scarily pointless modern world, which provides a grand, catch-all solution which everyone can (must!) believe in, an Ur-myth and a scapegoat to blame. Lots of modern day fascists are anti-capitalist, malthusian ecologist types, who want to return to simpler peasant like nobility and union with the land.

Oh, sure, I know the Nazis (for example) actually enacted a lot essentially socialist economic policies (hence 'national socialism'), and that Hitler blamed rich industrialists and bankers for the downfall of his beloved Germany almost as much as he blamed Jews and communists. I was just making the point that one could, in principle, support Marx's ideas while condemning all the attrocities that have been committed in in the name of his ideas; by contrast, I don't think anyone would say "Fascism is nice really, it's just that people like Hitler and Mussolini got the wrong end of the stick and cocked things up" - Hitler and Mussolini were fascists par excellence, surely?

vimothy
29-03-2007, 03:14 PM
Oh, sure, I know the Nazis (for example) actually enacted a lot essentially socialist economic policies (hence 'national socialism'), and that Hitler blamed rich industrialists and bankers for the downfall of his beloved Germany almost as much as he blamed Jews and communists. I was just making the point that one could, in principle, support Marx's ideas while condemning all the attrocities that have been committed in in the name of his ideas; by contrast, I don't think anyone would say "Fascism is nice really, it's just that people like Hitler and Mussolini got the wrong end of the stick and cocked things up" - Hitler and Mussolini were fascists par excellence, surely?

No I quite agree with what you and Guybrush (and even Slavoj ;) )are saying really: on some level, communism and marxism are a lot more rational and agreeable than fascism. I know people who refuse to describe the USSR as communist and instead insist on calling it state capitalist or sovietist. However, surely Marxism and communism have got to be criticised as attempts, just like fascism, to solve all of mankind's problems (as imagined yr fav ressentiment filled ideologue) with one utopian stroke of the brush. Honest question: if communism is qualitatively superior (or even just different) to fascism, how come it has killed more people?

Mr. Tea
29-03-2007, 03:21 PM
Oh, I think you misunderstand me: I wouldn't hesitate to call the USSR a 'Communist' state, because that's what it was. I'm no apologist for Stalin! I'm just saying the case could be made that Marx (for example) would have been horrified at what was done in his name - partly because he never advocated armed struggle and revolution. As I understand it, he considered communism a more 'scientific' way of living, and thought that, just as fitter species out-compete less fit ones, communism would inevitably, at some undefined point in the future, be the dominant (or even exclusive) political system in the world, just as human beings had come to be the dominant species.

You could also say that more people have been killed under communism simply because it has affected more people, in the same way that the average Satanist is probably a nastier person than the average Christian, but far more people have been killed by Christians because there have never been great numbers of Satanists at any one time.

vimothy
29-03-2007, 03:42 PM
Oh, I think you misunderstand me: I wouldn't hesitate to call the USSR a 'Communist' state, because that's what it was. I'm no apologist for Stalin! I'm just saying the case could be made that Marx (for example) would have been horrified at what was done in his name - partly because he never advocated armed struggle and revolution. As I understand it, he considered communism a more 'scientific' way of living, and thought that, just as fitter species out-compete less fit ones, communism would inevitably, at some undefined point in the future, be the dominant (or even exclusive) political system in the world, just as human beings had come to be the dominant species.

I was actually agreeing with you - to a point. It's just that regardless of how communism is supposed to occur, what actually does happen seems drearily inevitable. And why is that? I think that, in addition to the danger posed to humanity by any utopian politics, it's all because of systemic economic problems, something which Marx is responsible for.


You could also say that more people have been killed under communism simply because it has affected more people, in the same way that the average Satanist is probably a nastier person than the average Christian, but far more people have been killed by Christians because there have never been great numbers of Satanists at any one time.

Yep - part of the problem with communism is its extended appeal, especially to otherwise intelligent individuals...

Mr. Tea
29-03-2007, 05:55 PM
Ahh, you ARE agreeing with me! Sorry, I misread:


No I quite agree with what you and Guybrush (and even Slavoj )are saying really: on some level, communism and marxism are a lot more rational and agreeable than fascism.

as something like this:


Not quite sure I agree with what you and Guybrush (and even Slavoj ) are saying really: "On some level, communism and marxism are a lot more rational and agreeable than fascism."


Duurrr... ;)

old goriot
30-03-2007, 06:17 PM
thanks for the videos, hmlt. I was totally unaware of Adam Curtis. I found them immensley interesting.

A few points
TPON - re: the Straussians. Having watched the film I would say that the Straussians are given a completely fair assessment.

Century of the Self & The Trap

I really liked these. As some people pointed out, the story left out certain areas.

I think The Trap would have benefitted from some discussion of the rise of central banking, fiat currency, and the effect of the US dropping the gold standard in 1972.

I think it is key to recognize that the American dollar went from being something that could be redeemed from the world's largest gold reserves, to, by the sixties, a peice of paper branded "America" that was backed by nothing since the gold had mostly been sold off after the war. American economic policy since then has been more or less a PR campaign to buoy the dollar at all costs.

Ever since 1972 the Fed has responded to every economic problem by creating money out of nothing (also known as lowering interest rates) and causing speculation bubbles. But printing money doesn't create value, unless one were under the delusion that the paper money and dollar figures held intrinsic value (Wiemar Republic). Widespread market delusions are called bubbles, and we are nearing the end of the "US Dollar Bubble". Real estate, stocks, consumer credit in the 80's, dot coms in the 90's, and real estate again in the 2000's. Every bubble burst has been offset by new US Dollars being created, poured in and filling up another bubble. The whole thing has been supported by the widespread belief that, as the new world reserve currency, the US dollar obeyed no known economic laws and could never radically depreciate, no matter how badly debased. The long-term continual debasement of Roman silver coins (the closest historical precendent for the American dollar) is a classic example of the hopeless strategy of currency manipulation that becomes an irresistable temptation for rulers of a decaying empire who enjoy a trusted, almost monolithic currency that comes to reflect the power of the state rather than the value generated by the members of the state. This strategy is effective in the short term, but always disastrous in the long-term. The invisible hand smacks it back into place, painfully.

Since 1972 the American economy (and by extension the world economy) has been based on the fantasies of the the Federal Reserve. If you look at thier current statements re: the sub-prime mortgage meltdown + foreclosure crisis, it is clear how far the chasm between economic reality and the world of the Federal Reserve has widened. It has even led to Orwellian doublespeak on Wall Street like "Trade account deficits are good because they cause capital account surpluses". The problem is that capital account surplus is really another word for debt. The social security "trust fund" that is actually a chest full of IOU's (bonds) written by the American government to itself is just another example of the way in which American leaders came to believe that the American dollar had otherworldly properties that did not obey the laws of logic.

This view is unravelling by the day. Some economists are forecasting a dollar depreciation of 30-50% within the next ten years. Others like Peter Schiff of CNBC are forecasting an outright economic collapse (due in part to the impending bankruptcy of publicly backed lenders Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac) and a possible return to gold as the world reserve currency. Even grandpa buy-and-hold Warren Buffett has warned that the trade deficit is unsustainable, the dollar will depreciate, and therefore he is for the first time in his career buying overseas and exiting the american market.

The problem is that the US Dollar has pretty much inflated the world economy at this point, and everyone has exposure to it. I read one report of a NY real estate agent who has sold his 15 million dollar upper eestside house and is moving to China. Even after moving all of his assets to China at an optimal time when the dollar is still high and the yuan is artificially low, he still expects to lose 30-40% of his net worth in the coming recession.

I guess my point would be that the monetary gains that made the selfishness Curtis identifies possible and prevalent have themselves been largely illusory in a very real economic sense. Americans could never actually afford that second wave of individualized consumerism, it was funded by abandoning Bretton Woods and unhinging the dollar from real-world valuations - resulting in the stagflation of the 70's. I think a lot of the chaos that Curtis attibutes to the markets is more so a function of the last 50 years of fantasy based monetary policy (and the rampant speculation it engenders), mainly on the part of the Federal Reserve and Alan Greenspan. Personally I'm worried that the US will turn to military fascism when the money is all dried up.

Guybrush
30-03-2007, 07:14 PM
A few points ...

Very interesting. The U.S.’s, and thus the world’s, precarious economic predicament gets far too little attention. As you seem to think too, the consequences of a worldwide depression likely would be cataclysmic. I struggle to think of some historical example of when a worldwide depression did not lead to chaos and war—I cannot think of any. :(

I think there are still a lot of interesting thoughts in these series which we haven’t touched upon. I will get back with my 2 yuans later.

vimothy
03-04-2007, 02:35 PM
thanks for the videos, hmlt. I was totally unaware of Adam Curtis. I found them immensley interesting.

A few points...

You've obviously got some good neo-liberal tendencies (inflation is a government tax), Old Goriot, despite your pessimism....

However, a couple of points:

Didn't the gold standard lead to all sorts of problems?

How can a gold standard be expected to work when it wil mean there are effectively two prices for gold? (ie differing central bank gold prices and free market gold prices = countries buying gold at $35/ounce and selling for a profit on the open market).

Is/was there enough gold supply?

International currency markets (huge capital flows, etc)?

Didn't people go for dollars anyway because they could earn interest?

Mr. Tea
03-04-2007, 03:50 PM
I'd like to know enough about economics to be able to join in this discussion, but I don't, by a long way.
It's the kind of thing I always feel that I ought to be interested in, although for the most part I just find it really boring.

vimothy
03-04-2007, 04:08 PM
God only knows why I find economics interesting.

tatarsky
03-04-2007, 10:12 PM
The implications of coming off the gold standard, and the massive imbalances in the current economic climate that stem from the ungrounded monetary policy of the Fed (and more broadly global financial deregulation) are of enormous importance, and are only going to become more significant as the gulf between the US's ability to actually make stuff and its ability to borrow to the hilt to continue to buy too much stuff continues to widen. But I don't think Curtis could or should have attempted to explore these problems in either The Century of the Self or The Trap, because they fall outside of their remits.

Both programmes were about tracing back the sources of current prevailing implicit ideologies to their intellectual roots. In The Century of the Self this was Freud with individualism, in The Trap this was Game Theory (or at least the version of Game Theory of the Prisoner's Dilemma that Curtis broad-brushes the whole of Game Theory with) and the increasingly competitive nature of human interaction.

I don't understand why people accuse Curtis of being a conspiracy theorist, in fact, I would say he was quite the opposite and that it would be more appropriate to accuse him of failing to apportion blame at all. His approach is to lay down history as if this is how it has unfolded naturally - ideas occur in ivory towers - some powerful people are drawn to these ideologies and sculpt society around their own views of humanity.

I'd love to see Curtis attempt a programme that looked at the current economic imbalances, how America has been overspending, the wave of asset bubbles we've seen, the coming inflation, and so on, but I suspect that he doesn't actually know enough about it to manage it. It's a ludicrously complicated problem, so I'm not sure who would be qualified frankly?!

As for gold, it worked reasonably well up until the 60s or so, why no longer? As I understand it, Bretton Woods and the gold standard collapsed because of the imbalances that increasing global capital flows created. This was laid out in the Mundell-Fleming model which declared "the impossible trinity" of fixed exchange rates, free capital flow and sovereign monetary policy. Something had to give, and it was fixed exchange rates and the gold standard.

I don't think it'd be a good idea to go back to gold standard, rather it is monetary policy that needs reforming, drastically. The ability of the banks to print money and our economy being established on debt-based money is something I find equal parts baffling and unjustifiable.

Some good quotes from people who well understood the implications of too much power in the hands of financial institutions:

"All of the perplexities, confusion, and distress in America arises, not from the defects of the Constitution or Confederation, not from want of honor or virtue, so much as from downright ignorance of the nature of coin, credit, and circulation." -- John Adams

"I have two great enemies, the southern army in front of me and the financial institutions, in the rear. Of the two, the one in the rear is the greatest enemy" -- Abraham Lincoln

This is well worth reading:

http://www.moneyreformparty.org.uk

gek-opel
03-04-2007, 10:54 PM
Its not so much that he is a conspiracy theorist, rather that he is in love with his own (unique at least) style: that panoramic narrative drive, that droll, polite delivery, all to the seductive flicker of image and sound... but as great as that style is, I'm not sure that it necessarily serves to create a convincing forum for his arguments. His love of uncovering the master, hidden, narrative, that secret history which unlocks contemporary meaning, is what links him to the conspiracy theorists I would guess...

old goriot
04-04-2007, 12:08 AM
You've obviously got some good neo-liberal tendencies (inflation is a government tax), Old Goriot, despite your pessimism....

However, a couple of points:

Didn't the gold standard lead to all sorts of problems?

As Tartarsky pointed out, this is a matter of intense debate. Alan Greenspan was a firm proponent of the gold standard, before his famous defection to the Fed and betrayal of the Objectivists (ardent gold supporters).

The position of the economists allied with the Federal Reserve (Friedman, Bernanke) is that the Gold standard made the great depression worse because it limited the ability of central banks to respond. The other side argues that it was the banks that caused the situation in the first place by lending excessively to stock market speculators, and that, like the current central banking measures, lending more would have only prolonged inflation and worsened the problem.



How can a gold standard be expected to work when it wil mean there are effectively two prices for gold? (ie differing central bank gold prices and free market gold prices = countries buying gold at $35/ounce and selling for a profit on the open market).

That is the price they set, a legacy of the de-moneterization of gold... I don't think anyone actually trades at that price. For instance a 1 ounce gold coin in Canada is denominated as $50 legal tender, but when you buy it from the government it still costs around $700 (market price + markup). I don't think Barricks sells them bullion for $35/ounce if that's what your wondering. Central banks also buy at market prices, otherwise where would they get the gold?



Is/was there enough gold supply?

Supply is irrelevant. 1 - scarcity is what is important 2) The gold supply grows steadily at about 2% per year, and never degrades. It is slower right now because there has been less development, and companies have been building up their reserves (probably a hedge against the dollar and an attempt to raise the gold price even further).



International currency markets (huge capital flows, etc)?

Not at all incompatible with the gold standard. What is incompatible with the gold standard is long term trade or budgetary deficits, or funding a war that the economy cannot support. It ensures sound government. Fiat currency has for most of history been considered a temporary war measure (Greenbacks, etc.) The bankers and politicians just liked how much power it gave them and decided it would be a good system to use all the time.



Didn't people go for dollars anyway because they could earn interest?

There is no reason why you couldn't charge interest on a gold-based currency.

old goriot
04-04-2007, 07:55 AM
The implications of coming off the gold standard, and the massive imbalances in the current economic climate that stem from the ungrounded monetary policy of the Fed (and more broadly global financial deregulation) are of enormous importance, and are only going to become more significant as the gulf between the US's ability to actually make stuff and its ability to borrow to the hilt to continue to buy too much stuff continues to widen....

I'd love to see Curtis attempt a programme that looked at the current economic imbalances, how America has been overspending, the wave of asset bubbles we've seen, the coming inflation, and so on, but I suspect that he doesn't actually know enough about it to manage it. It's a ludicrously complicated problem, so I'm not sure who would be qualified frankly?!

I think most people that actually understand the banking system already have a vested interest in it, if only on the fundamental level of social stability and their own financial security. as Henry Ford said,
"It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning."



As for gold, it worked reasonably well up until the 60s or so, why no longer? As I understand it, Bretton Woods and the gold standard collapsed because of the imbalances that increasing global capital flows created.

IMO Bretton Woods was abandoned principally because of the capital flow imbalance of one country - USA - which happened to be powerful enough to abolish a system under which they owed increasing debts that were getting overdue. America emptied their treasury to pay for Vietnam and the Great New Society. When it ran out they were faced with two options: 1) immediate loss of the Vietnam War, enormous government cuts, rising taxes, the sale of assets and a huge decrease in living standards or 2) finding a way to avoid paying back what they owed (in gold or other real assets) anytime in the near future while hoping to make up for it in the long term through the production and export of goods.

They achieved #2 by getting everyone to drop Bretton Woods so they could pay their debt in dollars (I wouldn't doubt that it was foisted on other countries as their part of the common war effort against communism, a means of doing their part to finance Vietnam). They creatively refinanced their debt so that it would take a long time to call in, and would either 1) be made up for with increased production and exports (a trade surplus that would be paid for by foreigners in American dollars - currency which then could be taken out of circulation when it came back to America as payment for the trade balance - hence debt paid), or 2) if production did not increase to match the money supply, and a long term trade deficit occured with the number of excess dollars actually increasing rather than decreasing, the bad debt would be be paid by the various holders of depreciating US dollars. (The term inflation - the increasing price of goods, is actually a subtly misleading term. I prefer monetary depreciation - the decreasing value of money.)

#2 is what has happened. Now people are starting to not want the dollars anymore, so Americans will pay their debt in depreciation since they have failed to make up for it in increased productivity. This is evident in the trade and budget deficits, and massive levels of private debt being carried from the individual consumer level up to the corporate level. By avoiding market correction they were given breathing space (a kind of Chapter 11 protection from creditors), but they used it to continue borrowing for longer without fixing the society-wide problem of excessive spending and lack of production that put them into debt in the first place, thus digging an ever deepening hole through a mix of monetary corpratism and military keynsianism. Now, Bernanke actually has the gall to say (in The Economist) that the excess liquidity in the market right now represents an Orwellian "savings glut" when he knows full well that savings are at an all-time low, and the liquidity is all debt - an utterly shameless, shameless lie. A downturn was unavoidable from the beginning. Now instead of a short severe recession under the gold standard, America is headed for a long, protracted depression of far greater severity.

The much lauded "flexibility" of capital flows in the current system really means the ability of a state to go into deep debt and stay there for a long time while concealing it from the citizenry whose children will pay that debt. In the past people would come knocking for their gold within a couple years. That was a good thing. It kept governments honest. It kept debt levels within reason - both in size and time-frame for repayment. It made countries actually work for what they got, and not borrow on a massive scale against future generations.



This was laid out in the Mundell-Fleming model which declared "the impossible trinity" of fixed exchange rates, free capital flow and sovereign monetary policy. Something had to give, and it was fixed exchange rates and the gold standard.


I'm for the removal of sovereign monetary policy. Sound money is the foundation of all sustainable growth, and is not compatible with political manipulation of the money supply. In my opinion, central banks now play a role as central speculators who base government policy (monetary policy that has a direct effect on the market) in part on their forward-looking projections of what they think the market will require in the future in terms of liquidity and in part on their unknown political objectives that are absolutely secret and not subject to democratic review in any way whatsoever. Every bad decision made at the Fed is enormously costly, and there is absolutely no way of knowing how or why they are made. The government (or secret quasi-governmental institutions) shouldn't be in the business of creating money based on speculation about what the market will require in the unkown future or what they think may or may not be good for the country, their friends or themselves. It's just a bad idea that inevitably leads to severe contractions, or "business cycles", that in my opinion limit long-term growth (others see these cycles of extreme growth and contraction as natural). IMO it's the capitalist equivalent of 5-year plans... a subtle version of the central planning and market intervention that these economists otherwise profess to loathe so much. Once they get a taste of power they sure change their tune.

I'm not for absolute free markets, but in my opinion meddling with currency is the absolute worst form of interventionism. Its absolutely corrupting influence on all levels of society has been well documented by many thinkers over the years, particularily early Americans. "Sound currency" was once something that people thought was worth fighting for, or at least arguing over. As many warned, lack of sound currency has turned a country built on the protestant work ethic of work & save into a crass culture of borrow & spend, cheered on by its leaders... consumer confidence indexes and all that nonsense. No matter how they try to spin it, borrowing and spending cannot create wealth, only the temporary appearance of it - both on the large and small scale.



I don't think it'd be a good idea to go back to gold standard, rather it is monetary policy that needs reforming, drastically. The ability of the banks to print money and our economy being established on debt-based money is something I find equal parts baffling and unjustifiable.


I think the things you identify as debt based financing, or fractional banking, are part and parcel of of any form of central banking with floating currencies. That is how the government regulates money supply. To my knowledge, which is far from complete, the gold standard is the only viable alternative. In my opinion, most of the severe economic problems of the 20th century were caused by excessive lending and expansion of the money supply followed by severe market correction. I see the gold standard as a useful check against this tendency of politicians and bankers to over-spend and over-lend mass amounts of money that a) don't belong to them, and b) shouldn't even exist in an efficient economy. The unitas might be another solution, or an even bigger can of worms.

vimothy
04-04-2007, 05:40 PM
This is getting confusing :D

[Funny how no one else gets attacked for being a Hayek loving libertarian, but never mind...]

This going to take ages to dig into, i think, but for now: under the Bretton-Woods system the US dollar was the gold standard, not gold itself. Countries pegged their currencies to the dollar and bought and sold dollars to keep exchange rates steady. The US linked the dollar to gold at $35/ounce, and this was the price at which governments and central banks could exchange dollars for gold. Hence, you personally couldn't buy gold for $35/ounce, but your government could (then sell it on at market price, which was why the London gold Pool was created). Only the US dollar was backed by gold.

old goriot
04-04-2007, 06:37 PM
This is getting confusing :D

[Funny how no one else gets attacked for being a Hayek loving libertarian, but never mind...]

haha I was wondering how long it would take for that to get pointed out. FYI I'm not a libertarian or Austrian economist, although I have some libertarian tendencies and a couple positions in common with the Austrians.



This going to take ages to dig into, i think, but for now: under the Bretton-Woods system the US dollar was the gold standard, not gold itself. Countries pegged their currencies to the dollar and bought and sold dollars to keep exchange rates steady. The US linked the dollar to gold at $35/ounce, and this was the price at which governments and central banks could exchange dollars for gold. Hence, you personally couldn't buy gold for $35/ounce, but your government could (then sell it on at market price, which was why the London gold Pool was created). Only the US dollar was backed by gold.

Oh I see what you were saying earlier re: pegging gold at $35.

The US position of reserve currency with gold-backing was precisely the problem. The one currency that was actually backed by gold sold their reserves by giving out the gold for dollars then putting those dollars right back into circulation without taking in gold. It couldn't continue to meet its obligations with other governments and banks to exchange gold for dollars. Luckily those other governments were allies in a war.

Lyndon Johnson:
"Our role of world leadership in a political and military sense is the only reason for our current embarrassment in an economic sense on the one hand and on the other the correction of the economic embarrassment under present monetary systems will result in an untenable position economically for our allies."

I advocate the classical gold standard, not the Bretton-Woods gold standard.

"One of the most observable effects of the spreading gold standard was a marked decrease in the volatility of inflation rates. Under the previous silver and paper systems, swift inflation could be followed by sharp deflation, and then back to inflation in relatively short periods of time. Beginning with the general adoption of the gold standard, such wide swings grew smaller and smaller, and deflation replaced inflation as the normal state of price movement. This was seen at the time as allowing businesses to plan investment and expenses more easily, and reduce the risk of building large industrial projects."

hundredmillionlifetimes
05-04-2007, 02:52 AM
Its not so much that he is a conspiracy theorist, rather that he is in love with his own (unique at least) style: that panoramic narrative drive, that droll, polite delivery, all to the seductive flicker of image and sound... but as great as that style is, I'm not sure that it necessarily serves to create a convincing forum for his arguments. His love of uncovering the master, hidden, narrative, that secret history which unlocks contemporary meaning, is what links him to the conspiracy theorists I would guess...

The [hidden] Other of the Big Other. So he probably also believes in that other, master - economic - narrative that magically unlocks and safeguards intrinsic "value" - the Gold Standard, too ... :D

Actually, the discussion hereabouts about the supremacy of the military petro-dollar versus the quaint Gold Standard has a Baudrillardian twist: the move from the sorcery of the Gold Standard, corresponding to a Third-Order Simulation [an image that masks the absence of any underlying reality, a magical phenomenon of pure symbolic sublime], to the hyper-real of the Dollar, corresponding to the Fourth Order Simulacrum - the image, the dollar, bearing no relationship to anything other than itself, it being more "real" than the mere real of useless gold [though maybe they could today start up a new "gold" standard based instead on, say, plutonium, so scarce that it guarantees MAD-based peaceful co-habitation ...], is now unstoppable.



The position of the economists allied with the Federal Reserve (Friedman, Bernanke) is that the Gold standard made the great depression worse because it limited the ability of central banks to respond. The other side argues that it was the banks that caused the situation in the first place by lending excessively to stock market speculators

Yes, modern capitalism since its inception in the mid-to-late 18th century has suffered from acute and incurable bouts of recurrent bi-polar disorder, for it is indeed a manic depressive institutional structure [hardly surprising that such modern psychological illnesses had their origin - were created - contemporaneously]. The great and underapprecisted Russian economist Kondratiev (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kondratiev_wave)[despatched forever by Stalin to the Gulags for daring to question the "performance targets" rationality of The Five-Year Plan] brilliantly demonstrated the insanity of such desire-replicant cycles as far back as the 1920s with his theory of the Long Waves or K-waves of international capitalist cycles, the invasion of Iraq, incidentally, being almost precisely the start of a new Long Wave [when interest rates were also at historically low levels], just as the invasion of Vietnam 40-plus years before was the start of the previous Wave [when interest rates were also tending toward zero]. Fascinating stuff ...


As you seem to think too, the consequences of a worldwide depression likely would be cataclysmic. I struggle to think of some historical example of when a worldwide depression did not lead to chaos and war—I cannot think of any.

Interesting. And isn't the relationship necessarily symbiotic, co-dependent, co-determinus with capitalism's inherent contradictions?



As many warned, lack of sound currency has turned a country built on the protestant work ethic of work & save into a crass culture of borrow & spend, cheered on by its leaders... consumer confidence indexes and all that nonsense. No matter how they try to spin it, borrowing and spending cannot create wealth, only the temporary appearance of it - both on the large and small scale.

Well yes, this was the move beginning in the 1970s from Taylorist/Fordist production-based [labour-theory of value] capitalism to the hyper-real of monetarist Finance Capitalism [exchange-theory of value], the present model of economic hegemony [just look at how the U.S. plunged Japan into deep recession at the end of the 1980s, a recession from which it is still only recovering, thanks to the simple imposition of currency re-valuation and U.S.-style debt-finance capitalism. And soon it will attempt to do the same with China]. Notions of intrinsic "wealth creation" and hard work/thriftiness have nothing to do with it's viral replication, though it totally depends on those who still believe in such an unreconstructed "protestant work ethic" ["work hard and you will be successful" - the Forrest Gump ideology still uncritically subscribed to by the masses with the help of the mass media and Hollywood etc], the immoral and oppressive terms and conditions of ALL immigrant labour in the West ...


This was laid out in the Mundell-Fleming model which declared "the impossible trinity" of fixed exchange rates, free capital flow and sovereign monetary policy. Something had to give, and it was fixed exchange rates and the gold standard.

Except that such an "impossible trinity" is also the present source of China's massive economic growth and expansion, and what the West - particularly the U.S. - is so unhappy about - hence the now-being-rehearsed 1980s-style Japan option of forced currency re-valuation, so prolonging the West's current bubble economy for another few decades or so ... Except that today's capitalist-militant China isn't yesterday's capitalist-obedient Japan, it has other ideas ...

vimothy
05-04-2007, 10:42 AM
The [hidden] Other of the Big Other. So he probably also believes in that other, master - economic - narrative that magically unlocks and safeguards intrinsic "value" - the Gold Standard, too ...

Isn't the idea of intrinsic value inherently Marxist?

Mr. Tea
05-04-2007, 12:58 PM
[Funny how no one else gets attacked for being a Hayek loving libertarian, but never mind...]


Nah, she was red hot in From Dusk Til Dawn! :)

Mr. Tea
05-04-2007, 01:08 PM
Isn't the idea of intrinsic value inherently Marxist?

I haven't heard that idea before, but it would seem to compliment the idea (within capitalism) that demand creates value, which is then exacerbated by scarcity/lack of supply. If gold were as common as mud it'd be worth no more than mud...

vimothy
05-04-2007, 01:15 PM
I haven't heard that idea before, but it would seem to compliment the idea (within capitalism) that demand creates value, which is then exacerbated by scarcity/lack of supply. If gold were as common as mud it'd be worth no more than mud...

I'm refering to the Marx's use of Labour Theory of Value which posits that goods "incarnate" labour value which the industrialist then rips off to create profit by paying the worker less than the value of his labour (obviously false if we perform a simple thought experiment involving robots...). Modern day capitalism goes for the Subjective Theory of Value, ie the value of a good is subjective and dependent on, well, all sorts of stuff.

Mr. Tea
05-04-2007, 01:32 PM
I'm refering to the Marx's use of Labour Theory of Value which posits that goods "incarnate" labour value which the industrialist then rips off to create profit by paying the worker less than the value of his labour (obviously false if we perform a simple thought experiment involving robots...). Modern day capitalism goes for the Subjective Theory of Value, ie the value of a good is subjective and dependent on, well, all sorts of stuff.

I'm not sure about the robot thing: even robots will need electricity, oil, maintainance etc. (quite apart from the cost of buying them in the first place), although this makes them more like slaves (which is what robot means, IIRC) who are given only what they need to survive on, rather than paid a wage like employees, even if this wage is less than the 'true' value of their labour, however you calculate that.

vimothy
05-04-2007, 02:15 PM
I'm not sure about the robot thing: even robots will need electricity, oil, maintainance etc. (quite apart from the cost of buying them in the first place), although this makes them more like slaves (which is what robot means, IIRC) who are given only what they need to survive on, rather than paid a wage like employees, even if this wage is less than the 'true' value of their labour, however you calculate that.

Well, you're half right: according to LTV, the robots correspond to what's callled "constant capital". LTV looks like this:

c + L = W

"c" is constant capital (all raw materials, depreciation of tools and plant)
"L" is amount labour timeused to make product
"W" is the value of the product made

So robotically made products only use constant capital, hence according to the LTV (and Marx) it should be impossible to make a profit - there not being any workers to exploit. LTV is originally an old school classical economics idea coming from (I think) Ricardo, but is used heavily by Marx. Check the theory of marginal utility for something a bit more contemporary.

Mr. Tea
05-04-2007, 02:24 PM
Hmm. It seems to be a very specialised use of the word 'profit' to say you can only make one by exploiting workers. What if you work for yourself? In that case, any positive difference between the raw material cost and sale price (assuming you're making some tangible goods) is both your profit and your self-paid 'wage', surely?

vimothy
05-04-2007, 02:34 PM
Hey, it's not my theory... :D but of course, it is very old (in terms of Economics as a subject). These were people who were groping around in the dark in many ways, looking at the formation of industrial capitalism but without any real macroeconomic data. Others have pointed out that Marx (to anyone who's not a troo believer) effectively proves only LTV's irrelevance.

hundredmillionlifetimes
07-04-2007, 12:10 AM
Isn't the idea of intrinsic value inherently Marxist?

It was Ricardo who first proposed the classical economic idea of intrinsic (labour) value - Ricardian essentialism - in contrast to the later neoclassicists like Bailey who claimed that value is structural, is relationally derived from commodity exchange, from the arbitrary supply-demand structure of the economy. Marx ultimately traversed - attempted to trancendentally (and mathematically, though unsuccessfully) reconcile - this paradox/contradiction, this parallax (antinomy).

Kojin Karatani's recent book on Marx's political economy, Transcritique (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0262612070/dhalgrenstevensh), provides an excellent analysis of both the above and of Marx's specification of the “transcendental conditions” of a capitalist economy.

To quote from Steven Shaviro's review of Karatani's book:


Marx, in a certain sense, repeats the Kantian Antinomy between idealism and empiricism, by working through the parallax between Hegelian dialectics, on the one hand, and British empiricism and utilitarianism, on the other. But more specifically, Marx examines such an Antinomy within the tradition of British empirical political economy itself. On one side, there’s the political economy of Ricardo, grounded in the labor theory of value: Marx is commonly regarded as the great inheritor of this tradition. But on the other hand, there is the political economy of Samuel Bailey, who criticizes Ricardo (in 1825) on the grounds that there is no intrinsic substance of value, neither “labor time” nor anything else. Bailey argues instead that value is a purely relational (today we would say “structural”) phenomenon: it exists only as a marker of the way that commodities are related to other commodities for which they can be exchanged. Karatani suggests that Bailey is the forgotten precursor of the neoclassical economics that was developed in the later 19th century and still holds sway in “bourgeois economics” today. The neoclassicists, like Bailey, reject the labor theory of value, or any other theory of intrinsic value; they claim that values are only formed “on the margin,” in the process of sale and purchase, as affected by shifts in supply and demand. From the point of view of neoclassical economics, Marx is simply dismissed as irrelevant, on the grounds that he still holds to the essentialism of the labor theory of value. Of course, this serves as a perfect alibi for neoclassical economics to ignore all the issues that Marx brings up: questions of the ownership and distribution of capital, of exploitation, in short, of class. Instead, neoclassical economics only considers questions of “efficiency” and “utility”: it takes the politics out of “political economy,” and becomes just plain “economics” instead.

Karatani claims that Marx’s reading of Bailey shook him out of his previously unquestioned Ricardianism, in the same way that Kant’s reading of Hume shook him out of the “dogmatic slumber” of idealist rationalism. Karatani doesn’t give any evidence for this claim; nor could I discern any special importance given to Bailey when I took a cursory glance at Marx’s discussion of Bailey in Theories of Surplus Value. But whether or not Marx actually got important insights from Bailey, I do find Karatani’s overall account of Marx’s thought plausible and convincing. Some Marxist economists (such as Stephen Resnick and RIchard Wolff) have long argued that Marx rejects Ricardian essentialism. Karatani argues that Marx’s “critique of political economy” operates precisely in the Antinomy, or parallax, between the labor theory of value, on the one hand, and Bailey’s (and the neoclassical economists’) positivistic dismissal of value theory altogether on the other. Karatani notes, first, that even the theory of surplus value was not original to Marx; left-wing Ricardians had already developed it as an explanation for profit and exploitation, in much the same way that the leftist Young Hegelians, like Feuerbach, had already developed a theory of alienation, and a critique of religion, upon which the young Marx originally drew, but which he later rejected as inadequate. As for the other half of the antinomy, Karatani notes that “Bailey’s skepticism [regarding the labor theory of value] is similar to Hume’s criticism that there is nothing like a Cartesian ego cogito”. And just as Kant responds to Hume by saying that Hume is right, in the sense that the Cartesian ego does not substantively exist, but also that Hume is wrong, in that the unifying form of the ego must nonetheless be posited as a transcendental condition of apperception — so similarly, according to Karatani, Marx rejects Ricardian essentialism (the labor theory of value in its classical form), but also insists, against Bailey’s (and later, neoclassical) nominalism, that a “transcendental reflection on value” is necessary in order to make sense of capitalism as a system.

[ ... ]

In a parallel way to how the empty, transcendental form of the “I” keeps subjectivity together through time, so the transcendental category that Marx calls the “value-form” keeps the capitalist economy together, allowing it to replicate itself through time, impelling and indeed compelling it to expand through time. Marx is making a Kantian “transcendental” argument, when he posits the double value-form of the commodity (use-value and exchange-value) against both Ricardo’s essentialist (substantive) labor theory of value, and against the nominalist, positivist and ultimately neoclassical rejection of the very category of “value.”