Friday, November 30, 2007

We Deserve What We Get Part II

I received a response by Charles that went like this:
@ Banzai Bill

I don't think I'm a flame artist (guessing at what that means); I think I'm serious. I am actually just a guy who does not see the need for a comprehensive social revolution here.
I never thought of myself as naive or as representing a segment of society who is oblivious and uncritical of their government, but I suppose I'll allow that there are many who think like I do. But regardless of why they think as they do, there is a majority of the population that does not see itself as living under an oppressive regime or blindly imprisoned by a social system bent on keeping them down. Sure there are people who think that, but if you want to find intelligent people who think that, you need to go to college campuses and coffee houses.

The same arguments of impermeable social strata and prophecies of impending social collapse are, to me, tired. They seem to appear fairly regularly on a fifty year cycle, and thankfully mainstream America doesn't listen. And why should it? Mainstream America will never espouse fringe views unless they perceive their situation to be dire. They don't, because to them it isn't, and that's all that matters. As persuasive as some brands of social thought may have been to them when they were in college or grad school, most Americans divorce these ideas as they become less divorced from responsibility to the point where most who think this way beyond the age of thirty are college professors.

Most Americans see actions taken recently by the government to be unfortunate, but some think that those actions are justified. I'm one of those guys. People who don't speak out against the government or seek sweeping social change don't always hold those beliefs due to naivete. Many who don't have the same problems with society as you do aren't simply acquiescing uncritically. I'm just thankful this "naive" population outnumbers the socialists.

"Your revolution's over, Lebowski! The bums lost! Condolences! The bums will always lose!"

My response is long....

Charles,

This could become a “last word” debate, and I don’t want to be a part of that. I think you affirm exactly my points, though, in your response. I also feel that you didn’t realize that your comments supported everything I posted.

First, a little about Max Weber and Pierre Bourdieu. Neither of these social theorists would ever be thought of a “social revolutionaries.” Weber’s theories have become standard among many disciplines, with his classic work on Bureaucracy as the maxim in the business world. It’s unfortunate that the business world interprets his theory as a “positive” description of how organizations work rather than the “critical” perspective Weber intended. He was not an advocate of the type of “revolution” envisioned by Marx—indeed, he was extremely critical of Marx’ naivety in this area. Bourdieu also never advocated revolution. If change was to take place, it would be through a rather pragmatic and incremental process as people began to understand their position within the class structure and worked to ease or remedy gross social inequalities.

Second, you are correct that many of us lose touch with these social theories once we leave college. That is unfortunate, since they can be so helpful in understanding potential outcomes of actions by leaders, organizations, and institutions in this (and any other) society. A theoretical perspective helps us make sense of the seemingly chaotic (or logically structured) social world. It is the starting point for not only intellectual dialogue and analysis of problems—it is necessary in any credible policy discussion. Again, you are correct to posit that most of us lose touch with theory because we are too busy with everyday life. This is accurate and unfortunate—our lives, as dictated by our relations to global capitalism, keep us from finding the time to sit, read, reflect, critique, debate, and educate. I find most of today’s discussions are not critiques or debates—they are shouting matches that are empirically and theoretically groundless and turn into personal inflammatory attacks. What free time we do find we consume ourselves in entertainment—with or without friends and family.

Third, without a theoretical understanding of the world, you will continue to not see the oppressive conditions in which we all live in. You don’t have to side with me on this—you can pick noted “functional” or “systems” theorists like Durkheim or Parsons. Both stated that capitalist states do produce unequal outcomes—that’s the nature of capitalism. But for Durkheim, the moral imperative (and indeed the truly best functional operation) in a society is to measure people based on their Achieved characteristics—not their ascribed characteristics. When people are no longer able to move up the social ladder based on their lack of social networks, status positions, or free and open access to wealth creation, then the system becomes dysfunctional and must become balanced (equilibrium). Governments, according to Durkheim, must step in and enforce this balanced state of equilibrium. Ironically, we are seeing some “potential” of that taking place today—and may see further movement in that direction—when businesses begin making requests for government to “re-regulate” their runaway industries. Businesses cannot make those decisions on their own—they cannot stop being competitive with others in their industries. But they also realize this runaway capitalist process is damaging to the social structure and they are requesting government step in to control the situation (if I can find it, I will refer you to a NYTimes article that dealt with this issue a few months ago. There are other published examples in recent months as well).

You imply that I and others like me who state that we live in an “oppressive” state are promoting some sort of “conspiratory” process by “big business boogiemen” trying to horde all the profits to themselves. Though some people on the fringe might actually believe this, again this is not a theoretically grounded position. In its simplest, the oppressive state is merely an outcome of capitalism—it is how capitalism works. Free markets produce monopolistic conditions (see economic theory and empirical research to back that up as well). It is not a conspiracy on anyone’s part—it is just the nature of capitalism. Social theory (conflict and functionalism) states that some force (the people themselves or the government, depending on your perspective) must step in to remedy the “natural” extreme inequalities that emerge in capitalism. We don’t realize, at times, that we live in these oppressive conditions because governments and capitalists have been able to “buffer” its impact either with social programs (homeownership incentives and tax write-offs, for example) or business programs (easy access to credit, lower home-loan requirements) help maintain the faƧade of a “good” quality of life. What Blake observes, and quite accurately I might add, is that the business side is about to fall in on itself—causing large numbers of people who previously felt “comfortable” to come face-to-face with the reality of the social inequalities imbedded in capitalism. Those affected can either move towards perhaps government stepping in to soften the blow of this problem, or they can just “adjust” to this new problem, lower their quality of life, and apathetically accept it. Using Weber again as my starting point, I “predict” the “apathy” option—I don’t have much confidence in our society seeking ANY solution to this dilemma unless some leader emerges to 1) educate and articulate the dimensions of this problem, and 2) can charismatically lead a policy-change movement.

On a personal note—I am surrounded by a number of significantly disgruntled people in my community. They understand, in my conversations with them, that the society is oppressive, it is unfair, that they are usually on the short end of the stick, that their families are sacrificing significantly for the policies initiated by what they realize is an unfair social system and business-focused government. They are concerned with their personal futures, and the future of their children. They are somewhat disappointed in people who don’t see this situation, but are not surprised. They apathetically accept the condition of today’s society, and are rather unwilling to do anything about it since it could jeopardize their careers. They also realize, to a certain extent, that we all are rather apathetic and as long as we all have a perceived good quality of life, we conveniently don’t see the oppression. Well, they’ve experienced the oppression and unfairness, probably starting in October 2006, and If there is anything I might put in their mouths to tell people like you, I think they would say “wake up,” especially as it begins to affect more of us.

Who are these people in my community? They are active-duty men and women and their families who are stationed at Ft. Hood. Over the last four weeks, we have seen about 10,000 troops rotate out of Iraq, while another 10,000 troops are on their way to Iraq. I have a number of friends who serve in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and I sit with the loved ones left behind on a weekly basis as they try to make sense of how they are going to raise their children without a spouse for 15 months (15 MONTHS!!!). They are concerned that if their spouse is perhaps injured in Iraq, they might lose their benefits if he or she is medically discharged—I’m sure you’ve read the articles related to these actions over the past few weeks. They are concerned with the quality of health care they would receive in any case. They can’t believe that their loved ones will be assigned as convoy escorts in dangerous areas, getting paid minimally, yet those in Blackwater get paid $90,000 to do the same work, and if Blackwater personnel don’t like the “heat,” they can always quit. The families and the soldiers are not “revolutionaries” in any way—but they would like to see the oppressive system we live in today start to take care of the people, like themselves, near the middle or the bottom of the social ladder. And, honestly, they would like to see people like yourself, who are not sacrificing at all in this effort (other than perhaps paying for the war for generations to come) to “wake up” and reflect on the direction this society is going in. They can’t speak out because it would jeopardize their careers, but they know its going to be people in the civilian world who must wake up and help change policy.

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