Progress at The Baffler

snake image The Baffler, as evidenced by its very title, has generally promoted the Frankfurt School’s haughtily flippant approach to issues of so-called “consumption.” The core premise of this now-classic analytic style is the hypothesis that corporate capitalism’s ever-expanding commodity galaxy has, by establishing something called “consumerism” or “consumer culture,” made us all equal and all insane.

In his hugely influential and immensely over-rated 1964 book, One-Dimensional Man, Herbert Marcuse set the basic terms of this particular escape from realism. Here is the core presumption of modern “consumption studies,” the foundational axiom I think of as “Marcuse’s Big If”:

If the worker and his boss enjoy the same television program and visit the same resort places, if the typist is as attractively made up as the daughter of her employer, if the Negro owns a Cadillac, if they all read the same newspaper, then this assimilation indicates not the disappearance of classes, but the extent to which the needs and satisfactions that serve the preservation of the Establishment are shared by the underlying population.

By treating this always-preposterous “if” as an established fact, the task for the would-be anti-consumerist expositor becomes not explaining how the sphere of product design and product use works, but rather pointing out how crazy people are for participating in prevailing “consumer” activities.

I mention all this because The Baffler has just published a very useful essay that goes some distance toward breaking away from Frankfurtian “consumer studies” tail-chasing. Though he still uses the word “consumer” too blithely, Alex Pereene, the essay’s author, points out that, when it comes down to it, there has been a general failure among supposed experts “to account for the social and psychological context of consumer spending.”

Bingo.

Pareene adds that, while everybody keeps promoting and swallowing Marcuse’s If, the reality is that ordinary people are made to “settle for LCD TVs as a new generation of robber barons shot cars into space because they couldn’t figure out what else to do with the staggering amount of money they have.”

Well said, Baffler, and may you continue to get less baffled and baffling.

Answer to Facebook Spying

Were it charged with doing so, the United States Postal Service could easily create and maintain a non-commercial, not-for-profit, no-advertising, completely secure alternative to Facebook, which exists to harvest marketing data for its corporate clients. The fact that such an obvious thing remains unmentioned and unmentionable speaks volumes.

A Valuable Phrase

Bertrand Russell photo TCT‘s editor has been going through a phase of reading Bertrand Russell. It is very worthwhile.

Among the treasures to be had thereby is the fact that, at moments, as you’re reading along, Russell hits upon a phrase that packs a truly huge punch. One of these is “insufficiently scientific optimists.”

This concept speaks volumes in several directions, not least of which is its usefulness for making sense of the prevalent habit among greens and lefties of treating science as a problem, rather than a solution. (If you think this is just a minor problem, step over to any major greenish website and get a load of the ubiquity of the “we need new worldviews” trope. It is dominant.)

Russell is genuinely liberating on this vital issue. The problem isn’t science; it is that our overclass and their forebears only respect science insofar as it helps them make money and extend their own power. To blame this on science is a fatal mistake, if you hold out hope for a decent human future.

We are not going to rescue ourselves with shamanism or alt-nihilism or self-referential story-telling. The problems we face are too large and too difficult.

Meanwhile, TCT repeats the point: Mark Zuckerberg’s Congressional testimony is part of an elite scramble to contain the data-scraping scandal to “politics.”

Needle in the Haystack

Conservative media host Hugh Hewitt said a mouthful in the 1/28/2016 edition of The New York Times Magazine:

NYT: Most Americans think we should raise taxes on the rich, but the Republican candidates don’t, except Trump, who has said he would consider it.

HH: I asked him about a wealth tax, and he said no. But I find that concentration of wealth in Silicon Valley deeply disturbing. Those billionaires are very smart, but they moved to Silicon Valley at the right time. Someone was going to invent Facebook. I’m glad Mark Zuckerberg did it, but it wasn’t an act of genius; it’s an act of timing. Should he have tens of billions of dollars?

NYT: That’s a pretty radical position for a conservative.

HH: I don’t think it’s very good for the society to have billionaires. It creates envy. And envy destroys republics.

NYT: So you’d say to the Silicon Valley elite, ‘‘You didn’t build that.’’

HH: No. They did build it. I would say, You should keep an enormous amount of money for your entrepreneurial ability and your success. But there is a limit in America to how much any one person is going to have. You don’t need 10 billion dollars. Nobody does. The country does.

It is overclass arrogance and decrepitude, not mass envy, that destroys republics, and why those who “build” what was already going to get built, usually after much public-sector expense and groundwork, get to keep even millions is also very highly debatable. Likewise, there has only been one time “in America” when serious limits on personal greed existed — that was WWII.

But still, point taken. It’s a shame the left doesn’t speak this plainly and pointedly.

The Hicks Dictum

Bill Hicks “Here’s the deal folks: you do a commercial, you’re off the artistic roll call forever. End of story, OK? You’re another corporate fucking shill, you’re another whore at the capitalist gang-bang. And if you do a commercial, there’s a price on your head, everything you say is suspect, and every word that comes out of your mouth is now like a turd falling into my drink.”

— Bill Hicks, 1961-1994