Public Enterprise: Topic Not Completely Verboten

It’s hard to know what to make of such an event, which speaks volumes in several directions, not least being the patent idiocy of Donald John Trump and his many almost-all-white friends.

Nonetheless, Trump’s AG (itself a comical phrase), William Barr, is now talking about the United States purchasing controlling interests in Ericsson and Nokia.

Yahoo reports:

“American ownership of a controlling stake, either directly or through a consortium of private American and allied companies,” [Barr] said.

“Putting our large market and financial muscle behind one or both of these firms would make it a far more formidable competitor and eliminate concerns over its staying power.”

“We and our closest allies certainly need to be actively considering this approach.”

You, the loyal TCT reader, may have noticed something here: There is no mention, either in Barr’s statement or in the press coverage, of such ownership ruining the resulting endeavors.

How is it, you might wonder, that the public could possibly own and operate a competitive organization endeavoring to supply useful goods and services?

The answer, of course, is that it is possible for the public to own and operate a competitive organization endeavoring to provide useful goods and services.

The problem is that such possibilities are almost always unmentionable, due to the nature of existing power and privilege.

Every once in a while, though, an inept elitist will tip the overclass hand.

Class Paralysis

It’s behind a paywall, but Catalyst, the Jacobin spinoff, has an interesting piece titled “An Agenda for Class Analysis,” by sociologist Göran Therborn.

It is a reworked paper from a conference paying homage to the late, not-so-great Erik Olin Wright, who spent an entire academic career dithering unhelpfully around the edges of the topic of social class. In his prolix and stumbling efforts, Wright set a certain standard for careerist game-playing, for which he was repeatedly, deftly, and humorously (albeit, in effect on the subject, fruitlessly) taken to task by Russell Jacoby.

In this Olin-Wrightishly underwhelming Catalyst piece — which, by the way, provides nothing like an agenda for doing class analysis in this epochally troubled, massively class-oppressed century — Therborn basically admits that Erik Olin Wright spent all his supposedly analytical energy worrying about stillborn ideas like “class boundaries” and “contradictory class locations.” Therborn also comes very close to saying that Wright himself indulged in the very social-scientific “grantsmanship” and reputational grooming he ought to have rejected.

The main point Therborn misses in his near-take-down of Olin Wright is the plain fact that Olin-Wright always steamrolled over superior/classic views of what class analysis was, is, and could be. But such views were never very compatible with the “mainstream quant-sociology” Olin Wright fancied himself cracking into.

As it stands, it remains utterly remarkable how little creativity and insight has gone into the extension and refinement of class analysis, despite the relentless growth and refinement of the actual phenomenon it could and should be trying to explain. Sure, few topics have been less welcome than this one. But we, its supposed exponents, have hardly done much to damn the torpedoes. We have been downright dunderheaded about our own core topic.

Shame, this.

Late > Never

So, The New York Times is starting to make some rather sane observations about the nature of our society:

We are living in the world’s most advanced surveillance system. This system wasn’t created deliberately. It was built through the interplay of technological advance and the profit motive. It was built to make money.

Quite so.

This development, which, barring sharp democratic intervention, only promises to intensify, was, of course, quite predictable quite some time ago. We here at TCT saw and named it in 2003, when the TCT book emerged. The pertinent phenomenon is “market totalitarianism.”

The NYT being both a major commercial enterprise and a major ideological organ of TPTB, the true origin of this deep reality has to be denied, of course.

Hence, a phenomenon which springs directly from corporate capital itself — itself a phenomenon which sprang straight from Adam Smithian capitalist normalcy — has to be attributed instead to mere bad apples:

The greatest trick technology companies ever played was persuading society to surveil itself.

[NYT, emphasis added]

In this preposterous but ascendant misreading, market totalitarianism is just a trick played by one rogue sector within our dominant socio-economic order. One question that willfully silly excuse begs is who buys all the data and for what purpose?

Evidence That “Consumerism” Is Not Our Problem

Richard Eckersley is a very skilled and important researcher into the details of how our world actually works.

Among the topics Eckersley investigates is the question of what the mass of people actually like, want, prefer, and worry about, and whether (or not) and how (or how not) our dominant institutions care about and encasulate those actual desires.

Here is what Eckersley reports about the increasing advocacy of well-being indexes as a replacement for, or accompaniment to, GDP statistics. Such nice ideas, Eckersley suggests, do not go far enough:

Public perceptions of the future have been another dimension of my research. And I am not aware of any progress indicators that reflect the depth of people’s concern (which existed well before climate change gave it a tangible focus).

Richard Eckersley

Ordinary people, in other words, are far more worried about the future and desirous of macro-alternatives than any “happiness indicator” scales show. If, of course, one bothers to actually look.

That, alas, remains something very few thinkers, including the purported mavens of green consciousness, do.

Instead, among such would-be leaders, the phantasm of “consumerism” continues to trample this whole field of reality into a plane of hopeless hallucinatory mush.

TCT will say it again: “Consumer” analysis is barking up the wrong tree. The masses are already way more complex and thoughtful and open to hearing the news than their would-be saviors bother to know.

It is beyond high time for the arrival of an empirical perspective on off-the-job life in the modern world.

Victoria’s Demise

Despite the unrelenting flood of elite-sponsored nationalism, militarism, and commercialism, many areas of on-the-ground American culture have been improving rapidly. Sexism, despite setbacks like the Madonnian faux feminism that took hold in the 1980s and continues to work its evil ways, is one of the great social sins we the people have been chipping away at, despite our confounding institutional order.

TCT mentions this because there is important news on this happy front: Victoria’s Secret, the corporate lingerie pusher that has always sold its wares via dangerous sexist “aspirational” images, seems to be dying. In the climate that now seems to be solidifying, VS can apparently no longer run its hateful “fashion shows.”

According to Advertising Age:

It’s official now: There will not be a Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show this year. At a time when many other lingerie brands (like Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty) are celebrating real women’s bodies, some consumers found Victoria’s Secret’s display of thin models strutting in lingerie and stilettos to be backwards and off-putting.

TCT looks forward to the day when we no longer let people call us “consumers,” a label that only a capitalist should ever embrace. But, meanwhile, it remains important to count our wins, along with our struggles and losses.

A Worthy Idea: Media Strike!

Larry Sanger is a libertarian, so he has not thought through modern life’s inevitable collective dimension. We homo sapiens face unavoidable problems of how to make macro-choices and how to account for the various dilemmas of group size/social scale. In the 21st century, with 8 billion of us afoot, these shared conundrums are certainly not going to go happily away if we don’t face up to them.

His libertarian bent also means that, despite his own deep immersion in it, Sanger doesn’t seem to remember that government invented both computers and the internet.

Of course, as a libertarian, Sanger also ignores the reality that capitalists hate price competition and generally try to swallow and merge with their business competitors — making capitalism an inherently centralizing (and totalitarian) institutional order.

It thus isn’t surprising that Sanger’s call for a boycott, on July 4 and 5, of the corporate media oligopolies does not include a demand for the only institutional arrangement that could ever possibly achieve his stated goals: lavish, bleeding-edge public provision of both internet access and elementary social media platforms/apps (non-commercial alternatives to Facebook, Google, etc.).

If he thought it through, Sanger would be calling for the USPS to enter the field of modern communications media access provision and internet software development/operation, i.e., for it to fulfill its Constitutional duties by making available a safe (private), non-commercial, cutting-edge basis for maximum democratic correspondence amongst We, the People.

But, despite this fatal flaw, TCT thinks Sanger’s boycott — and it actually uses the word “strike”! — is, for now, an excellent idea. Let’s do this!

On July 4 and July 5, do not use any corporate internet or cellular media or apps. If you must look at TCT or some other non-commercial app, and if you also somehow have a way to do so without going through a corporate access pipe, please choose a non-proprietary, non-corporate browser.

As for TCT, we will be on strike then!