Xmas Creep 2012

Capitalism is extremely predictable, at least at the level of the managerial actions that drive its mundane operations. Thus, as we TCTers know, the great junk-pushing rite known as Christmas grows a bit every year. Hence, this unsurprising news from today’s edition of The New York Times:

Some of the nation’s biggest retailers — Sears, Target and Toys “R” Us among them — announced this month that they would be moving up their predawn Black Friday door-buster sales to Thanksgiving Day or moving up their existing Thanksgiving sales even earlier on Thursday. Walmart, which has already been open on Thanksgiving for many years, is advancing its bargain specials to 8 p.m. Thursday from 10 p.m.

But in Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, the stores will sit dark until the wee hours of Friday. Even Walmart will not open in Maine until just after midnight Friday or in Massachusetts or Rhode Island until 1 a.m.

New England’s blue laws were put down by early settlers to enforce proper behavior on Sundays. (The origin of the term is unclear. Some have said the laws were printed on blue paper, while others have said the word “blue” was meant to disparage those like the “blue noses” who imposed rigid moral codes on others.)

Over decades, many of those laws — which banned commerce, entertainment and the sale of alcohol, among other things — were tossed aside or ignored, or exemptions were granted. In some cases, the statutes were extended to holidays and barred retailers specifically from operating on Thanksgiving or Christmas.

All quite boring, except for this: If you go look at the story on the NYT site, you’ll notice its html title and the words that appear in your browser’s tab are this: “Blue Laws Curb Consumerism.”

So the inexorable march of Xmas marketing toward the Fourth of July is caused by consumerism — whatever that is, not capitalism?

Here you see the conceptual violence inherent in the system.

If you doubt such linguistic shifts matter, consider this lament from a local quoted by The Times:

“Thanksgiving is supposed to be about giving thanks for all you have,” said Mr. Brewster, 47, who runs a computer repair business. “I cringe to think what society is doing to itself,” he said of the mercantile mania that threatens one of the least commercial holidays.

“What society is doing to itself.”

Stalin and Hitler would be purple with envy at this amazing mental elision of a runaway ruling class.

20 Replies to “Xmas Creep 2012”

  1. Great illustrations of social reality – this kind of world-class discernment must take massive amounts of patience to go along with practiced talent.
    “What society is doing to itself” captures the basic ignorance about sociology that rules the species. Human beings are run by a supersystem, yet they seem to have no way to fit this into their worldview, and so repeat completely false statements: “We” the people, “We” did this,”we” did some historical wrong.
    The economy is fully screwed up, so where does the focus go: not against its loathsome arhcitects, but for more from the same overlords, and now earlier, at a frenetic pace and HD quality – the car ads for at least a week now have been drenched in hipster holiday tinsel.
    If anyone can stand to hear the “runaway ruling class” in actual voice, Michael Ellsberg, of Forbes.com, provides a particularly unfiltered cry of entrepreneurial bohemian fascism in his book against education.

  2. Well, now that is depressing, Martin. That creep is the progeny of the one and only Daniel Ellsberg! Talk about generational decline!

    “No business in America — and therefore no job creation — happens without someone buying something.”

    That’s some breath-taking idiocy right there.

    And how much chutzpah does it take to tell people to skip college after having attended Deerfield Academy and Brown University? Need we ask how great his recommended path is, when he himself apparently hasn’t become a billionaire?

    They must have had some powerful dope up at old Deerfield…

  3. Forgive me an out-of-thread (not wholly relevant) comment: As I’m now outside of the USA, I rely upon blogs such as yours to keep me informed. (Even though I don’t have so much time available to read your blog.) So, I just want to make the general remark that I’m glad you are there.

  4. I’m with you Mark. I usually come here after seeing a particularly obnoxious article in the media (which is often; so many to choose, today for example, CNN explained how things are really great and we are truly living the dream but not realizing it, alongside with a tidbit about retaliation against protesting workers “aleged” in “a handful” of locations). And then I remember that the ratio of people who read CNN vs. those who seek or are aware of the sense-making blogosphere is abouz a bazillion to one, and get truly truly depressed. So, freedom of the press is a wonderful thing, as long as you own one.

  5. True… I’ve caught myself multiple times staring at the TV, and just after a few minutes of this (sic!), I already begin to catch myself nodding and “thinking” (?), “um, yeah, that sounds about right…”.

    I no longer watch TV, but it doesn’t matter – when 99% of public discource, formal and informal, is prepackaged in fairly narrow boundaries, even if you have a glimplse of some right/true ideas, when there is nobody to discuss them with on an ongoing basis, might as well not try.

    That said, I read and like your blog too. At this point, more than mere reasonableness and thoughtfulness is needed. So, keep writing y’all.

  6. I saw a reference, some damn place, to the reason that most people do not publish a blog: too much “psychic overhead.”
    I find blogs to be indispensable to my intellectual life – political opposition to the dominant order is best conducted through this omni-directional, multi-talented viewfinders.
    Yet blogs, at least for me, have died.
    There was a heyday, heavily tied to the comments section free-for-all, yet the comments became their undoing. Either the comments free-for-all revealed the proprietor’s querlous truculence through censorship or petulant in-group beat-downs, or crickets took up residence in the 1’s and 2’s of responses.
    Like the communes of the 60s, blogs have been abandoned, absorbed, riven, or, like TCT, stand with integrity flying, determined to fight agaisnt the psychic overhead like the Lincoln Brigade, but where is the battle to be joined anew?

  7. That’s an excellent point, Martin, and a good comparison. What we’re seeing now is, essentially, the failure of the anarchists to establish any kind of viable society.

    Whenever a certain level of popularity is reached, the blog–like the salon, the commune, or a reformist movement in local politics–has shown itself to be governed, still, by humans. The desire for order sets in, and we find even staunch anarchists establishing rules of thoughtcrime in order to avoid upsetting the social order.

    In the context of 1960s-era African American civil rights, growing blogs often reach a point where they’ve “got theirs,” and no longer care about the reason they theoretically began doing the blogging/organizing in the first place. E.g., once the black preacher has a nice house and a pension, he turns down his rhetoric; once the reactionary blogger has an established readership, he settles into the rut and just repeats variations on a theme, getting those guaranteed page views and excluding naysayers.

    “They,” being blogs, don’t need to be abandoned. But as we move forward, if we’re to be decent, we must be the garage band that refuses to sell out. The garage band that actually, despite the ten-million-dollar offer and escorts, refuses to dump their old friend the ugly bass player, write party songs, and cut the pointless album before retiring to indolence. The blogger who actually, despite the streams of congratulations, few bucks of ad revenue, and eventual commentator job at a backed site, doesn’t start censoring content once it becomes clear that the majority of the customer base doesn’t like Viewpoint X.

    Selling out–that would be a good slice of the consumer trap. In these games of avarice, the successful are, almost invariably, selling out, even if they’re packaged as rebellious alternatives. There may be no saving them, but as you go forward, strive to be the person who, if success is achieved, does not sell out. The discovery of the true self is of greater importance than those who are only looking for a big brother to guide them within the walls of a new nation, and the aiding of even one other in finding freedom is worth the starving outside those walls.

  8. The last passage (“freedom […] worth the starving outside those walls”) made my day.

    You can’t win though – “fascism with a smiling face” has an indisputable and – as it seems for now – growing appeal. I don’t approve, but I surely understand why the Frankfurt school “sold out” so quickly (if my reading of them is correct…).

  9. Well said, Arkie, bringing some probity and chataqua uplift to this subject, but the “garage band” metaphor may be too close to the opposite truth. Numerous Netflix documentaries testify to the pathetic nature of superannuated “garage band” heroes, like the power pop king Chris Von Sneidern, or the 70’s never-been heavy metal crack fiend, or the stalwart Anvil van driver, or the record store proprietors of “I need that Record,” or the Dandy Warhols, all holding on that rock ‘n roll mythos, when time and the pull of obscurity has all but extinguished the rockstar mythos for these guitar heroes, now poor schlubs.
    What blog meets your criteria for being that exception to the sell-out drag?

  10. Personally, I’m quite genuinely shocked at how little today’s anarchists pay attention to the conclusion of the greatest living and greatest ever anarchist: Noam Chomsky. Just as communism is the ultimate aim but not the short-term expectation of Marxism, so is the end of the state and the expectation that spontaneous, entirely uncoerced behavior can suffice in Chomsky. He said as much very clearly and logically here and elsewhere, and has certainly not reversed himself in that area. Very few anarchists seem ever to have pondered this issue, not to mention related ones of cultural inertia and sheer planetary population. Too-soon anarchy is a very bad idea.

    Need we mention the fruit fly life span of Occupy?

    As for the Frankfurt School, one such figure who never hinted at selling out was Erich Fromm.

    For myself, I think the FS was largely a victim of its own starting questions and assumptions.

    I also think by far the best thing Gramsci ever said was “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.” There are some very good trends happening amid the general rush toward ecotastrophe.

  11. Marla, <3, and this one would also like to hear your version of the Frankfurt School. Arguments about Marx are often like arguments about the meaning of Shakespeare or abstract art, revealing more about the speaker than the subject, with only coincidental, if any, connections to what the creator might actually have been thinking or trying to express.

    Martin, perhaps so. Of course, the "garage band" image is itself an illusion; the actual garage bands didn't make it enough even to get known as "garage bands." It's like calling Puff Daddy a fighter from the ghetto, or Obama a socialist: blessing by mild insult rather than damning with faint praise. The real garage bands are the ones we never know about, who refused to overlay their own vocals, or less glamorously but still nobly, just never rolled the right dice and vanished into the night. If all your stars out and it turns out no one was watching anyway, then there never really was anything to win. No one remembers the best mammoth hunter from 10,000 B.C., and even if computers manage to think thoroughly enough to teach the 10,000 A.D.ers that Paul McCartney was really a good thing for music, will either distinction matter in the sense that we tend to price, now, as "mattering"? If there is no truth to what happened in the silent forest, then we must not be here anyway.

    Blogging is, of course, "selling out" in a literal sense. Claiming intellectual property rights over your work–which this one does, too–is property, so we've become commodities, all of us, even if by some variant of necessity. The free rider problem that capitalism claims to solve is, in the realm of ideas, even more devastating, and even more internally painful to think of dealing with–the theft of an original idea or "fictional" character. If such things can be stolen, then so too can be the soul, or maybe there wasn't one anyway. So we come up with various rules to protect ourselves, and we've enclosed the commons.

    Being less metaphysical, though, can we fault bloggers for loading a page with flash ads or promoting their careers, when we all sense, on some level, what we're really trying to achieve with these things? The seduction of the readership is pretty strong. This one's laundry list of bans goes back to old stormfront, through Free Republic, Democratic Underground, many slightly-more-liberal blogs (before the cowards dropped comments entirely), and right through to, only days ago, staunch antiwar progressives. Throughout it all, the real selling-out has been the willingness to censor–to be willing to kill an idea that the majority found unpalatable, in order to avoid upsetting the Ladies Church Muffin Club (credit: Milo Bloom) and from there moves to everything that doesn't make the membership look good.

    It always starts with something everyone can agree upon, like reminders that the church fathers molested children or theories of Holocaust deniers. In the garage-band sense, that would be lip-syncing just this one line or letting the synthesizer handle the refrain to cut down on variance because everybody does it. Pretty soon, you're up on your terrace at 4AM, fondling a jobless underwear model and covered in $200 scotch, looking down on Charlie Sheen while he vomits into your hot tub, trying to remember if you're not supposed to be in a studio in Vancouver in a couple hours or something bad will happen.

    Michael, this one would see you as right and not right. Some of the anarchists say otherwise, although a great deal of them, including a recent Arka-banner, are all about the Chomsky baby steps, though they don't call it that, or even attribute it to Chomsky (because they haven't read him very well, either). The cutesy ones, like dear IOZ, pay lip service to anarchy, but deep down, don't want it, and would be the first to fall victim to the roving gangs of hetero white southerners with two months' worth of ammo and ten years worth of crowbars. They probably even believe they want it. That's nice, but Chomsky (and Marx) are unlikely to see these long term goals revealed. The people who are winning these games are in the model of AIPAC and PNAC: they play hard, right away, with no quarter and rules save power. In the playing field of mathematics and shifting matter, it's hard to imagine that they wouldn't be able to counter even some sort of fantasy progressive achievement, such as an "instantly-empalced worldwide education and free sandwiches" campaign. Asking for anything that preserves the edifice seems to be working against a microbe that is allowed to evolve several times between every round. Indeed, Chomsky types, as we saw most recently with Obama, not only fail to improve "things," but by providing a narrative of progress that is to be had hand-in-hand with evil, facilitate the implementation of deadlier evils still.

    The victories of this planet, ever since self-aggregating parasites began sucking resources away from their kin for squander to spite Terra, have been measured in subtle, hinted whispers; or, more often, moments of grace utterly unrecorded here in time. If there are eyes of truth, then finding your own moment could all at once be your connection to the real history of everyone else who's done it before. And in a way that Scholastic can't record, wrap in hardback with a CD included, and require every school district in the country to purchase 1,000 copies at $24.95 each.

    There's your final tie-in to Gramsci, if you like it so. "Where there's a will" does not necessarily mean that the "way" will be found here.


  12. Love the Gramsci quote…
    As for anarchists vs Chomsky, I don’t think anybody “wins” here… Clearly an overnight anarchy would be an unimaginable disaster (Arka, I live in the South, and I can verify that people who crave a breakdown so they can bust out their guns do exist; although I think they really overestimate their abilities and/or commitment to “rough it”). Also, not coming to a collective agreement on how to solve the property issue, guarantees a Mad Max situation – in the unlikely case the state power disintegrates.

    But Chomsky too is (very uncharacteristically) not particularly convinsing when arguing that goals should be realistic, long term, broad based etc., involving taking control of the state, among others. This is quite difficult to imagine, esp without precedent. For as long as modern states have existed, they have always been the instrument of the ruling capitalist elite. Indeed, that’s why they appeared on the scene to begin with. Even recent Latin American developments, some of which Chomsky generally regards as success stories, achieve “capitalism with concessions” at best, and involve countries with still sizeable peasant populations (one exception seeming to be Venezuela which probably has problems we are not aware of..)

    So, I don’t know. Even if there are “good things” happening (which is always true – and please, publicise examples), I have a hard time imagining they can reach a scale large enough to threaten the immensely concentrated state-corporate power, and the rare instances the rumble gets loud enough, the present system has proven remarkably good and resilient into accomodating some minimal concessions to diffuse the tension…

    I am beginning to doubt that even the looming ecological disasters and resource shortages can perceptibly undermine it: with so much power at the top, this would simply mean that a larger and larger portion of humanity will be relegated to animal-like existence (and depending on measures, over half is already there globally). There are plenty of precedents of societies that have succesfully controlled slave populations outnumbering the populations of the “free” by 20:1. If this was possible in a distant, low tech world, why can’t it be possible on a much larger scale today? After all, there will always be enough fuel to fly the drones…

  13. Arka, as for Marx, clearly this is not the medium to engage in extended discussion, but in short, I personally see him as above all, as probably the greatest humanist who ever lived (that I know of). Which seems to be a point that can sometimes lost amidst his more detailed and technical writing on the intricacies of our historical predicaments, and the attndant existential and material imitations

  14. Marla, this topic — the nature of the state — is one on which I also strongly disagree with most anarchists. Yes, states have always been dominated by ruling classes. But the ongoing and still very young democratic revolution is not a mirage or a fake-out, at least not entirely. Real victories have happened. So, to simply stop at the observation that states have been tools of arbitrary coercion is to tell only part of the story.

    What’s omitted? Realities like those discussed, with some serious flaws and partiality but not, IMHO, unfairly, here.

  15. Awesome link, and I personally really don’t think anarchy that also preserves some semblance of advanced civilization is plausible (even as a thought experiment) – without governing institutions (some of them necessarily large and strong), in which case the whole concept of anarchism becomse too fuzzy.

    As for the democratic revolution, I must be missing something – it seems the oligarchy is stronger than ever, and the neoliberal f*** everybody mindset is alive and healthy even in places that should know better by now (e.g. in my native Eastern Europe). Asia, Africa and Latin america may be promising laboratories hypothetically – if we don’t nuke them before that.

  16. Marla, I’m not suggesting we’re in a good and happy phase. Indeed, with the still-ongoing capitalist retrenchment of the 1970s (as a reaction to the victories of the 1960s) and the deserved implosion of the first major effort to create an alternative system (a good thing in the long run, but a blow to the very idea of alternatives in the short term), who could doubt that we’ve been living in a long period of regression?

    But democracy advances in waves, not steady increments. So again, in my view, it’s important not to toss the baby out with the bathwater. Retrenchment is not necessarily final defeat. There certainly could be another major leap forward. If it ever happens, it would almost certainly, as a Dennis Hopper persona once so erroneously predicted of the 1990s, “make the sixties look like the fifties.”

    As for Eastern Europe, I’ve always thought the late, great Daniel Singer pretty much nailed that one here. Though he held out some hope that Solidarity would turn left, he was very doubtful. Why? Because Stalinism had thoroughly wrecked EE-ers’ ability to imagine socialism/Marxism as being anything but a nightmare.

  17. Thanks for the links, promising books, just ordered.
    I have to concede that my memories from EE socialism are from the early 1980s, i.e. after the greatest misery and opression was inflicted (besides, I suppose my family was the commie equivalent to middle class – to this day, it totally beats me how my grandpa was able to seamlessly transition from a businessman before and after the revolution, into an ambivalent, but succesful bureaucrat), so understandably I am inclined to view it through rose tinted glasses, even as my parents were bitching day and night and prepping me (apparently succesfully…) for immigration… That said, the apartment I live in now as american middle class is definitely much shittier than the one I enjoyed as a kid :).

  18. PS: btw, all that said, don’t forget that the former communist parties won multiple electoral victories in many EE countries in the early 1990s. Then, (already in high school and college) I was terrified by how people can be so stupid as to vote in precisely the party ‘they’ supposedly just overthrew, but 20 years later I may be begining to understand. I was watching archival footage from 1989 a few weeks ago and was shocked to see the ex-commies running for office and making perfectly sensible and forceful points about addressing environmental problems – in 1989! Right now, the dynamics in my home country at least however is still such that paradoxically the right-leaning parties tend to be on the more progressive side (which is not really that surprising given the synergy, which you have everywhere, between the ex-commie state apparatus and business…). Those really gaining momentum however are the ultra-right, ultra-nacionalist azzholes that all Europe has…

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