Response to comments on “Political Currency:I like Taxes”

The following was intended to be a response to comments made on my brother’s blog postPolitical Currency: I Like Taxes. The reason I am posting here is that Blogger’s comment fields apparently have length restrictions.

My initial comment, which actually made it to the site, was:

“When Wall Street runs your government, and corporations effectively control the discourse about government (the language you speak of here appears pervasive in nearly every mainstream media conversation I’ve had the misfortune to be subject…ed to for the past 15 years) then people will tend to relate to it as another “company” offering a “service” that has to adhere to a bottom line. This distorting factor is one of the reasons I think that Capitalism is ultimately detrimental to democracy. And it’s hitting the skids about as hard as the old “Communist” systems did, it just does a better job of covering it up. ”

To which John responded:

“I think is both deeper and maybe, in a way, less dire than that. Firstly, I don’t think this tendency to think of freedom, government, etc. in economic terms, or using economic metaphors, is simply a result of corporate influence. It is something with a much longer history than that, and that I think has to do with this connection between limited government as defense against abuse and limited government as a way of achieving economic efficiency. (Abe, you should chime in here).

Secondly, I do not agree that “corporations effectively control the discourse about government.” To support that claim, I feel I require no more evidence that both you and Sarah Palin can use the term “mainstream media” in a disparaging way, but have entirely different notions of what’s wrong.

Moreover, if the way that people think about government IS determined entirely by the way things are presented in the media, then the problem is NOT the way the media present things, but the fact that people are not critical of those presentations. And THAT is not the fault of corporations; that is all of us. ”

Below is the response I intended to post:

“Firstly, I don’t think this tendency to think of freedom, government, etc. in economic terms, or using economic metaphors, is simply a result of corporate influence. It is something with a much longer history than that, and that I think has to do with this connection between limited government as defense against abuse and limited government as a way of achieving economic efficiency.”

I think the concept of “corporate influence” is less reductionistic than the above implies. When most people with jobs work for a corporation, exchange the payment derived from that labor for goods and services provided by corporations, and entertain themselves with media created by corporations, that is going to have an effect on the way they think. It’s not just a matter of getting information from a biased source. What I’m talking about is the mental habits ingrained through the constant activity of economic exchange. Essentially, I think that we are living in a society permeated with commodity fetishism, in which social interactions are not just distorted by the imposition of economic frames, but that the distortion is so complete that there is no functional difference. I don’t want to imply that I think this is some sort of “evil” that must be corrected or purged. I see it as an aspect of reality in this time and place. It has its good points and its bad, but I do think it needs to be realistically addressed in order to achieve the best possible outcome for the most people.

As to the specific question, I think it’s basically a territorial issue. I would wager that very few people are actually concerned with economic efficiency in the abstract. To begin with, the system itself requires infinite growth on a planet with finite resources, and is thus by definition inefficient and unsustainable by any rational standard. What most people care about is being able to “enjoy” themselves (usually through various forms of self-numbing and ego gratification) and only think about the “big picture” when the monkey they identify with grunts and identifies an “intruder” upon their psychic turf. This turf emphatically includes their money.

In this case, I think the appeal of “small government” stems from the transition from rural to industrial economies (which even in some parts of the U.S. has never been total) and the attendant dispersal and erosion of previously firm social bonds. “The government” was a convenient target for people’s frustrations, and we are still experiencing the fallout from that set of tensions. But in my opinion that’s just the basic impulse or “original trauma” that the corporate interests are exploiting. It wouldn’t work if there weren’t some deeply embedded historical sentiment behind it.

“Secondly, I do not agree that “corporations effectively control the discourse about government.””

To more accurately express what I mean, I would replace “mainstream” with “corporate” and probably put “discourse” in quotes. There is no “discourse,” only a pantomime between payed “experts.” I’m actually referring mainly to this exchange. That is what is presented as supposedly “ideology free” as opposed to the speeches of politicos, which most people are conditioned to instinctively mistrust. I have yet to see such an exchange that did not assume that the government should be run primarily as a business, with the provision of services determined by supposedly neutral economic considerations.

“To support that claim, I feel I require no more evidence that both you and Sarah Palin can use the term “mainstream media” in a disparaging way, but have entirely different notions of what’s wrong.”

I would distinguish between the sort of rhetoric used by politicians and the “discourse”, however shallow, of paid experts. Rhetoric is used to make the monkeys dance. “Discourse” makes them think they are “informed” when they do it.

The use of “outsider” language by privileged reactionaries is a study all its own. It’s a problematic way of referring to various phenomena whatever the context, as it can be read as an exclusionary device rather than something meaningful. I’m fairly confident that reactionaries such as Palin use it with the intent of implying that they and by extension those who follow them are “hip” to some sort of secret that no one else knows.

I think it’s a mistake to think of Palin, or even “corporations” as part of some sort of ideologically coherent structure. The corporations are looking after their need to expand and make profit. The Tea Party and allied folks seem mainly interested in maintaining parochial boundaries and middle class privilege. These two interests overlap in the area of economics.

“Moreover, if the way that people think about government IS determined entirely by the way things are presented in the media, then the problem is NOT the way the media present things, but the fact that people are not critical of those presentations. And THAT is not the fault of corporations; that is all of us.”

I hope I’ve made it clear that I meant something quite different than simply media manipulation. It would be nice to think that there is a “target” that we can somehow eliminate or manage in such a way that we will have a better world. I’m less interesting in finding someone to blame than I am in assessing where the leverage points for effective action might be.

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