Today's Isms


What is Metaphor?

David Brooks, columnist in the New York Times has a talk at TED, for those of you who subscribe to TED's "ideas worth spreading." It is not a particularly world-shattering talk David gives, but it is a lot more humorous than I thought he was capable, having read years' worth of his op-ed pieces that try to define the political center-right in America. Brooks is a good student, well educated, not quite intellectual, but certainly the next best thing. He is a columnist, after all, and his forte is to see in the world things that would be of interest to others and things with a didactic purpose that he can mold further or try to deflect.

In the course of David Brooks's recent meanderings through the thickets of political theory he chanced upon the topic of metaphor, presented to him as the modus operandi of the typical human imagination. I am glad Brooks has brought this subject out into "the open," as it were, for it is a very important concern of philosophers of epistemology as well as practical people in Linguistics, like George Lakoff whose work on political issue frames is part of the total picture of American politics today.

Brooks makes the stunning error in his report about metaphor of putting a disparaging valence on the use of metaphor, stemming from its all too apparent poetic character. He has not gotten into the study far enough to understand that the differences between prose and poetry are minor, when it comes to understanding where they come from in the human brain and imagination. For instance, an honest study of semantics reveals that words, indeed the entire vocabulary of a language is a cemetery of dead metaphors, words the poetry of which has dissipated into nothingness leaving us with a sense of security that the name of the thing or process or quality is appropriate and real.

Brooks did not have the time or the inclination to go further into a study of Rhetoric to understand that metaphor is but one of several forms of linguistic analogizing, there being (depending on the theorist) at least four major types, categories that develop analogies in specific ways, such as metonymy which is the figure of speech in which a closely associated thing is substituted for the subject thing: "The British Crown spoke in no uncertain terms about the responsibility of every Englishman to his native land." Clearly the physical crown atop George's head did not speak, but suggesting so gives more authority to the utterance, as it conveys associations with history and power.

Synecdoche is another figure of speech that is one of the members of the metaphor family. Synecdoche substitutes a part for the whole or whole for the part, as in the familiar expression "a hundred head of cattle," of course not meaning detached heads, but the whole animal reduced to a crucial part.

Of the four figures of speech the one that is perhaps the most confusing is Irony. Irony depends on the negative associations of the substituted word or idea, and Irony can emerge from an otherwise straightforward metaphor, such as "my love, a rose" certainly beautiful, fragrant, but sometimes too thorny.

Brooks may later get into the intricacies of metaphoric analysis, and I wish him well in this, for the subject lies at the heart of human cognition. We extend our knowledge of the world by way of metaphors and explicit analogies, such as the idea of "planetary electrons" surrounding an atomic nucleus. We eventually lose the "surprise" of the metaphor and take for granted that electrons orbit the nucleus in fact. This idea extended our vision of physics immeasurably, and with quantum physics may have met its ironic association.

Read Brook's column of April 11th and enjoy the extension of your own imagination. You will never be the same, believe me!



What is a Liberal

I am extremely interested in the deep structure of ideology. Not just Liberalism or Progressivism, per se, but all ideologies. My studies of and in Russia were basically about Marxism and Leninism and Stalinism, and my studies on China about the KuoMinTang and then the Maoist version of Communism. But I have also studied western European ideologies and have noticed that "world views" and Zeitgeists may be more important that ideologies in determining what a person actually will do in a given situation.

World views and Zeitgeists (literally "spirit of the times") are cultural, that is, they are trains of thought and thinking that are sufficiently widespread to "have a life of their own." With obvious variations and differing perspectives from one generation to the next, world views seem to be the most deeply rooted and extend out into religion and psychology. Zeitgeists, as the name implies, are more ephemeral, and even may be more hazy concepts than world views. The spirit of the times of the "Roaring Twenties" was not shared by all or even most of the people in the United States or western Europe, but it was a definite cast of mind that even included a political ideology such that people "swept up in" the Roaring Twenties were in some sense "on the make" economically, socially, or sexually, and so there was a background belief that aggressive commerce, social climbing, or dalliance was acceptable, legal, expectable, and welcome in some overarching way.

Well, these thoughts passed through my mind this morning as I read E.J. Dionne Jr.'s column in the Washington Post about who Rahm Emanuel, the new Mayor of Chicago as of Tuesday, is and might turn out to be. In the middle of his essay, Dionne says

... One of my favorite (printable) Rahm quotations is his observation that the talk in his home when he was growing up led him to believe that the Democratic Party "was one of the 10 lost tribes of the Jewish faith." This primordial feeling allows him to understand every kind of Democrat.

Many assume he is more New Democrat than liberal because of his advocacy during the Clinton years of welfare reform, NAFTA and a tough approach to crime. He was more ready to compromise on health care than Obama was. And, yes, his mayoral campaign was more like a venture capital fund, a juggernaut financed by big contributions from some of the country's richest people.

But there's nothing illiberal about being against crime, and Rahm has consistently emphasized the toll of street violence on the poor, a theme he struck again in his victory speech on Tuesday. He understands the value of a certain amount of populism....

Dionne says that Emanuel may be a "New Democrat" rather than a liberal. Then he goes on to chalk up pros and cons for what Democrats believe and inferring what "liberals" believe. Dionne's specific exclusion of welfare reform from the agenda of "liberals" really annoyed me. It is as if to say that "liberals" are oblivious to the various complaints about welfare and its debilitating and other unanticipated consequences. It is as if "liberal" to Dionne conjures up some notion of a bleeding heart so intent on his or her guilt for the tribulations of the poor and infirm that they cannot see. So, I question whether Dionne really knows what he is writing about, first, and then I question whether contemporary Democrats actually subscribe to the "liberal" ideology, or have they run away from the mudslung word "liberal" and the ideology that word embraces?

Food for thought. I will leave you with my assessment. Dionne is basically liberal, but has been battered about so badly that he is slightly confused or at least willing to abuse a few terms for a nod from a larger audience than he believes he actually represents. And, yes, Liberals do have hearts, but they no longer bleed all over the place. In some sense the Liberal heart is hardened to the realities of politics, especially the GOP politics of taking no prisoners and listening not at all to what the opposition has to say.

Liberalism is the fundamental engine of our Enlightenment-inspired democracy and republic. Liberalism is a path of understanding of human events and futures parallel to the scientific method, in other words, rigorous, fair, carried out with humility, and not dogmatic or fixed in its discoveries and lessons. The spirit of the times, with TeaParty populists ranting around every corner, is not parallel to rational discourse or science. It is aimless pragmatism directed to accumulation of quick and easily ballyhooed victories to build up confidence for facing what is for many a very bewildering future.



The Sides Really Are at War

Some people have asked me why I jumped into the fray in Madison, Wisconsin, since Wisconsin is something of a backwater state, aggie, beery, and politically polarized since the days of Bob Lafollette. One suspects in Wisconsin that politics is modulated by the passing of generations and the stark differences between Catholics centered in Milwaukee and the Calvinist and Lutheran remainder. But, the answer is that Wisconsin is just the contemporary stage for a battle that has been going on for 150 years or more, namely, the battle for political, social, and economic hegemony in the United States.

Paul Krugman, fearless Nobelist and economist, wrote in the Sunday New York Times about Wisconsin's role in the larger battle and the current score. Democracy is losing! And, having said that, one wonders why individuals, Americans, enlist in the armies of the enemy?

What reasons could an individual have for siding with the forces that want to corrupt and obviate our democracy? First, I think, is the egocentric assumption that they, themselves, will rise into the milieu of the rich and famous. They believe that their current interests are to make sure there is a place for them above where they find themselves today. They are blissfully unaware of the sobering statistics on social and economic climbing. Even "new money" has to look "in" through the keyhole, but they ignore this.

Second, I think that proto-oligarchs, if that is what we should call them, fundamentally dislike the idea of democracy, even representative democracy. They distrust the masses motives and believe reflexively that majoritarian rule is just a tyranny of the crowd. The believe that the crowd will vote itself a free lunch and sponge off the "hard work" of others endlessly. They don't just dislike democracy; they are afraid of it and hate it without words to say so.

Thirdly, I think that people who have strongly held principles about public behavior tend to not respect people with variant views. So, for instance, if the Democrats support the idea of Choice in planning parenthood and our proto-oligarch does not, or at least is against abortion, then he will tend to avoid that group and by default or by earnest intend fall into the group that wishes to impose its rules on the private lives of others. To put it mildly, proto-oligarchs, being successful by some measure in business or industry, are awfully self-certain and so their view of what is public and what is private blurs to their own benefit.

Finally, but by no means exhaustively, the person who is ready to give up democracy to curtail the rights of others as "presumptuous," "uneconomical," "immoral," or any other rubric of opinion you can think of have a poorly developed sense of the social nature of the human species. They are hell-bent to understand the world as their authoritarian parents understood it. They lack compassion, and indeed such a word sounds fatally weak to them. How they manage to "practice" Christianity is a miracle of hypocrisy worthy of research by all the synods and diocese of man.

When you sum them up and understand their basic motives you understand that they are an implacable enemy. Many, if not most, of them seem to be immovable in their views, and we should not wonder at this, since they were formed as children in what really amounts to an abusive relationship with people upon whom they depended for life itself. They are who they are and what we can do about it is the biggest question.

We can understand that they cannot be eliminated quickly. We choose as a principle of humane activity to reject violence against them, so what can we do? The answer is that we must have a long period in which they are shown that what the Progressive and Liberal and Humane person does actually works! We cannot allow them political power for they will, as Reaganistas did, sabotage the best intended programs for social and economic justice. We must dominate their imaginations with truth about our species and its "condition." We must teach them democracy and tolerance, because they do not know it.



The Conservative Brainwash

Most of us Liberal Progressives have a decent appreciation for a good argument, an argument that marshals facts and perspectives, performs something like a syllogism, and concludes with striking assessment of a knotty problem. We recognize such arguments as being a few notches up the stick from the reality they pretend to represent, but that is the nature of human thinking and communication. It is symbolic and a little abstract no matter what we do to give it a sense of messy realism. It is, therefore, more than an idle complaint that some people pretend to argue, but are actually constructing a false picture of a nonexistent situation, using fabricated facts, and exploiting the well-known abuses of the syllogism. Why do they do this? Is their reality so bankrupt and threadbare that they must invent from whole cloth each time they speak, or is it that they have premises that overwhelm evidence and exclude the fullness of facts and observations?

Since the nominees were named for the 2008 election season the "rhetoric" from the conservatives has been stridently bereft of facts, yet the multitudes seem to love it, and they vote for it. It makes me lie awake at night wondering what must be the level of critical thinking taking place in, say, fifty million heads nowadays. It cannot be critical thinking and is probably would best be labeled "wishful thinking" if it were the least bit positive, but it is not. It is decidedly negative and destructive. So what do we call it? A few regular handles spring to mind, but they really do not carry either the tone or the burden of what is going on. The closest I can come to the overall purpose and strategy of the conservatives is the expression "brainwashing."

I think they are brainwashing themselves primarily and happy to pick up a few hapless converts along the way. In that sense the nonsense that is repeated endlessly by the conservatives out on the edge is more like a mantra than dialog. It is the hopeful repetition of an incantation with the object in mind of having it come true by some magical means. "Nam myoho rengai kyo." And all your deepest wishes will be fulfilled.

The process is a page from every religious culture that ever was. It is, at its best, a prayer for something, probably protection from the hostile elements of a an uncaring world. At its worst it is a threat and call to arms to stamp out and kill anything that sounds different and leads to a different conclusion. It is a war chant, a deliberate denial of manifest truth in favor of a theory of how things are that was superseded by science and rational thinking ages ago. It is a desperate plaint in the wilderness for a simple answer to complexity.

All of this was made quite plain in Paul Krugman's essay on Friday. He absolutely nailed both the real facts and the mendacious ploys of the conservatives in one short essay—a real masterpiece!



American Liberalism

After many years of grappling with the question of why the American brand of Liberalism seems to be less "satisfying or rhetorically inspiring" than virtually any of the contending forces out there, I finally ran across a very interesting article in Scientific American magazine, which goes part of the way toward explaining what classical "Liberalism" really is. Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine, writes in his regular column in SciAm about a book he recently read by Timothy Ferris, The Science of Liberty, in which the novel thesis laid out that as a matter of historical fact, the Founding Fathers of this nation, imbued with the newly found "Enlightenment" respect for scientific thinking—as a methodology—deliberately and sometimes unconsciously incorporated much of that scientific methodology into their thinking and into the Constitution itself! Shermer and Ferris point out that what we think of as a "liberal democracy" is short-hand for a scientific approach to politics and governance. This puts classical American Liberalism on an entirely new, novel, and provocative footing.

At the top of the American Liberalism website by the title you will see five concepts that we believe are fundamental and intrinsic to the core of Liberal thinking, guidelines, perhaps, for the multitude of problems, programs, and contingencies that a people will encounter in the course of running a "great experiment" like the United States of America. Each of these elements was initially thought to be an element of our ideology. But now, with the perspective that Liberalism is really ... really ... political sciences in the raw, in the flesh, in action, a way of thinking about running an experiment in which one is fully and perhaps fatally embedded, the five concepts look more and more like rules of behavior in this laboratory, markers and signposts to keep your eye on the ball.

If Liberalism is the scientific method for politics, and really is political science, per se, as Shermer and Ferris describe in some detail, then what is Conservatism ... besides being institutionalized pessimism? In the context provided by the watershed idea of Ferris that had been lurking in our history, but insufficiently explained to break loose from its supposed moorings in British parliamentary party politics, Conservatism is both an ideological position based on the fundamental belief that government is inherently dishonest and corrupt, because it is constituted and run by dishonest and corrupt men, a religious doctrine brought into the life of the nation, and moreover, it is effectively a denial of the scientific method, an idea so fundamentally irrational that it transcends politics and goes, AS IT IS GOING TODAY AT FOX AND TEA PARTIES ALL OVER THE PLACE, back to a vision of humanity that denies rationalism, reason, transcendence, and virtually everything that the Enlightenment stood for.

Let us be clear. Both Shermer and Ferris go to some trouble to emphasize that science is a messy process complete with the inevitable irrationalities of its practitioners, complete with falsified data, unproven hypotheses, discarded and discredited theories, but always more or less self-correcting (against the forces of ambition and sloth) by experimental testing, gathering of evidence, and rigorous and competitive evaluations. You see, it begins as a glimmer that they are absolutely correct that the Constitution was designed to replicate as much as possible the essential methodology of science. But, it also becomes apparent that any experiment in which the scientists themselves are part of the experiment is fraught with the possibilities of compromise, fraud, and paradox.

Moreover, with human frailties all too evident, the liberal democracy must learn to deal with the negative inheritance from the past, and with new threats to the methodology. It is no picnic, and the Ferris idea is anything but a panacea for governance and politics.

What it is, though, is a remarkable perspective on what we have conceived and carried forward with occasional mistakes and occasional remarkable successes. Read the SciAm article at least, and give your Liberalism a new breath of life.



The State of the World

The human condition is one of those grab-bag, black hole kind of ideas that includes anything and everything you might want to say about the goodness and perversity of being human and being human amongst humans and other living things and within a physical environment from which one might extract great wealth or not. See! The so-called human condition covers a lot of ground and just about the time you think you have a dinner speaker's chance of nailing it down, it changes.

It changes because we are all different in our multiplicity and all the same in our singularity. The practitioners of Zen and coiners of Zen koans should be good at this, but they have long since discovered that it doesn't make any difference to what they are after, which is, of course, inner peace. Well inner peace here and inner peace in Uttar Pradesh are two different things. You consider the vast array of creeds here and the vast array of gods and hero there and you wonder how the human mind can assume that sufficient similarity of purpose to make any communication possible.

Today in the Boston Globe, hot on the heels of a magnificent essay about the problem of celibacy in the Roman Catholic Church, James Carroll writes about the problems of the Church as if they were old hat and perhaps overstated; my reading of his essay, not his avowed purpose. He is writing about the demise of egalitarianism and nationalism, although he calls egalitarianism "socialism" to make the point about decline.

I agree with him in a way. Clearly in the west, particularly Europe, the area in which modern nationalism got its start and strong voice and strong philosophical underpinnings, nationalism is much less than it was in the 19th century and the great wars of the 20th. And, just as clearly, with the demise of the Soviet Union, all socialist ideas have come under heavy scrutiny and criticism. In the U.S. particularly, since the U.S. was the leading opponent of the Soviet Union and developed its loins-girding rhetoric to a high art, the besmirching of socialism and communism have become a reflex and have long since departed from meaningful descriptions of what exactly "socialism" intends and intended, or what Lenin and Stalin and the Politburo did to Marx's theories to acquire and then maintain power. It matters a great deal because there are ideas embedded in "socialism" that are also embedded in even conservative ideas of the commonwealth and what a "republic" is.

It has been common practice in the last fifty years to acknowledge that nationalism has replaced much of what religion once provided as a unifying force over society. I tend to disagree with Carroll that nationalism is finished, however. I wrote about a week ago how the horizons of most people are local horizons and that home and hearth are steady concepts relating to family and the sense of one's place in the world. I was angry about that then and sarcastic and gave up on the idea of humankind truly understanding the complexity that 7+ billions of people creates on a small planet with limited resources and an ecology that will strike a balance and homeostatic compromise with what is at hand, whether that be us or not. Then a couple of days ago I read a piece by Manu Joseph of Mumbai, India, which takes off in a substantially different direction.

Joseph's essay mixes up things that Carroll cannot mix: internet address protocols, the pervasiveness of English because of the last (most recent) big fling with nationalism, and modern nationalism. Joseph demonstrates that nationalism and regionalism and even parochialism are far from dead, far from decline, and in fact are alive and growing in places we thought would skip that step.

That step!

In the west, because of our unique history (not to favor it, but only to note that it has not been replicated ... or understood very well), we have developed theories of history and "everything" that (perhaps modeled on human maturation processes and stages) include epochs in which we learn how to do things that were impossible or not even imagined in earlier stages. That is, we have the background notion that things are, if not improving, they are "developing" and, like James Carroll, we are charged with the duty to find the good and learn, pass it on, and be better tomorrow than we were today. The idea of progress is not exclusively western, you should know. The central tenet of Buddhism within the concept of "transmigration of souls" or "reincarnation" is that there is progress and regress both dependent ... as it is in the west ... on various freewill opportunities.

The galvanizing words within Manu Joseph's brief treatise are these:

"The world does not want to be unified. What is the value of belonging if you belong to all?"
In these two sentences Joseph demolishes Carroll. India has something over a billion people, more than all the (other) English-speaking and European countries combined! When Joseph jots down his syllogism, the stage is set for nationalism and for egalitarianism, whether it be "socialist" or not. If nothing else he has reminded us that the pace of "progress" is different in other places and of a much different gait.



The Psychologies of Conservativism and Liberalism

As the year 2009 wends onward to its more or less unsatisfactory finish, with the economy still up for grabs, with the war in Iraq punctuated recently by massive terrorist bombings in Baghdad and unresolved issues in the Kurdish area, and with the U.S. military, the CIA, and Blackwater all resolutely laying the foundations for a new thirty years war in Afghanistan and Pakistan (and maybe even Uzbekistan), liberals and conservatives are at one another's throats on a daily basis. If you watch MSNBC in the evenings, both Rachel and Keith are hard at work exposing the Fox Noise Network's ever proliferating lies and pseudo-histories of our times. Both go over the top a couple times a week, but Keith more than Rachel. Most Americans wish that Rupert Murdock could be expelled from our country and sent back to Tazzie or wherever he came from.

The differences between conservatives and liberals are not all concocted by pundits, however. The GOP and the Fox rightwingnuts have developed a new form of disloyal opposition, eschewing "loyalty" in the hope that any failure (human or institutional) will redound to their benefit in the mid-term elections next year. The GOP positions from Chairman Steele to Representatives Boehner and Cantor to Senators Hatch and McConnell are deliberate, and many of us can remember when the GOP acted quite differently. It has been a while, though. Certainly not since Gingrich strode into town in 1994.

The differences between conservatives and liberals are, most people suspect, something deeper than political/tactical and purely ideological. There seems to be an unbridgable moral gap between the two groups. Professor Jonathan Haidt at the University of Virginia has some ideas on this subject as reported in the December issue of Scientific American, which you should find quite interesting.

In a nutshell of Prof. Haidt devising are five key psychological "systems":

  1. Harm/care: Evolved mammalian attachment systems mean we can feel the pain of others, giving rise to the virtues of kindness, gentleness and nurturance.
  2. Fairness/reciprocity: Evolved reciprocal altruism generates a sense of justice.
  3. Ingroup/loyalty: Evolved in-group tribalism leads to patriotism.
  4. Authority/respect: Evolved hierarchical social structures translate to respect for authority and tradition.
  5. Purity/sanctity: Evolved emotion of disgust related to disease and contamination underlies our sense of bodily purity.
If you have not already read the article, take a wild guess which of these five "systems" are favored by liberals, then read the article and take a few minutes to pursue the links provided by SciAm.

Remember "POE" from Dr. Strangelove? Turns out the issue is not comedic; it's real and very fraught!



Capitalism, Fascism, and Socialism

Yesterday (February 16th), Thom Hartmann wrote a truly excellent article on FDR-era Vice President Wallace's remarks about whether Fascism "... Can Happen Here". Hartmann's article did not change my mind, but it did force me to realize that the issue is really "afoot," as they say. As everyone knows explicitly or "in their bones" we are now in very interesting times, the outcome of which could go in any of several undesirable directions.

Moreover, the issue is not straightforwardly explicable. There are a lot of good and true reasons to think that Capitalism is different from Fascist Corporatism. And, equally, there are a lot of people who, believing themselves to be "capitalists," are really more simply "entrepreneurs." And, there are "capitalists" who are already "corporatists" and don't even know it. Finally, there are rational people in politics and in the press who believe their job is to mediate the Obama Administration away from any "socialistic" tendencies the Democrats may have "under their tent" and in so doing these members of the press are misrepresenting "capitalism" and, wittingly or not, playing into the hands of people who are committed "corporatists" and lacking only the propaganda means to accomplish their aims.

Capitalism has become by the beginning of the 21st Century a complex creation of human ingenuity. Even in its early modern days in the Dutch Republic of the 17th century, Capitalism was complex and already linked culturally to Calvinist religion. It was, thus, something of an ideology with assumptions established in different parts of the Dutch culture. The Dutch were, arguably, the first modern country to dominate world trade. In a sense they defined what mercantilism was and, in so doing, gave a modern definition to "capital." Fundamentally, the study of macroeconomics begins to take shape during this period, that is, "mercantilists" began to understand the larger implications of the accumulation of capital and the necessary role of the state in the accumulation and preservation of capital.

Capital is according to 19th century analysis the accumulation of "surplus value," which is in the simplest terms the difference between cost of production and price. Capital has two important functions: one is to simply exist, accumulated, and to represent potential, and the other is as investment, that is, capital committed to discrete purpose. Capitalists are, therefore, persons who accumulate surplus value and persons who commit that value toward some kind of enterprise. Capitalists are not necessarily entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs are not necessarily capitalists, although they seek and must have capital. Capitalists naturally are aware of the environment in which they operate and so they seek safety for their accumulations of capital and they seek to minimize the risk associated with the capital they commit into investment. In other words, since the beginning Capitalists have not and do not exist in a vacuum; they exist in cultures and polities and like every other being on the planet they do what they can to control their cultures and polities. The activities of control are what interests us.

Capital and capitalists are but one part of the equation, however. You will find many definitions of what constitutes an operational economy, but the traditional view is that land and labor are the other two main components. There is not time to fully argue the reason for doing so, but I am going to substitute the term "commons" for the term "land" in this essay, because I think we need to understand the materiality of enterprise as also embodying the air, the water, the ecosystem, the planet. Perhaps we come to this substitution too late. The commons is the neglected part of the human enterprise equation, and the insertion of a partisanship for the commons is not only necessary, but has been largely misunderstood and too often deliberately suppressed.

But labor has its day. The Marxist analysis comes to the more than slightly simplistic conclusion that "surplus value" is actually the congealed value of the work of Labor. Taking that as a moral point, which Marx and Engels do (which is why Marxism has been so acceptable to many), they (along with the less precise predecessor utopians) arrive at the conclusion that control of the polity (and the economy) ought to belong to—be in the control of—labor, not in the control of culturally and religiously "irrelevant" or "unnecessary" individuals whose main aim and virtue seems to be acquisitiveness and more acquisitiveness through investment. Once the role of the capitalist is partly revealed, it becomes easy to see a way to replace them within the "division of labor" with technicians. It should be obvious at this point that these technicians will learn to call themselves "management" and that they have exploited both Capitalists and Labor to a calamitous fare-thee-well recently.

When Labor takes over the function of accumulating the surplus value of an economy and the function of determining how that value is to be invested, we call that Socialism. The idea that our elected representatives in Congress represent Labor is only partly correct, of course, so the current bailout situation is only by a long stretch of the imagination Socialism. Socialism is "social" only in the sense that the private accumulation and investment ambitions of individuals is replaced by putatively "public individuals," those elected or hired to do what Capitalists did theretofore. It is important to see that Socialism does not obviate the need for capital or "capitalists." It is merely a mode of control over the economy and the polity and the culture.

So then what is Fascism and Corporatism? In brief, it is the control of the polity and the economy and the culture by a combination of the Capitalists with the collusion of Management (now separating itself from the category of Labor), and importantly with "management" being defined and conditioned by the organized enterprises in which Capitalists have invested, that is, the corporations. The control of government, whether elected or not, is achieved by well-known indirect means, of which we have ample experience in the past sixty years. Rather than allowing themselves to be "dispossessed" by the threat of Labor taking matters into its own hands, Capitalists and Management use the government and economy to control Labor ... and to provide enterprises into which they can safely invest.

Almost needless to say in such a short essay, Corporatism is not a whether, but like Capitalism and Socialism a question of how much. It has already happened. The control of the polity is always a balance (or imbalance) among the contestant members of the economy. However, you should notice that of the three methods, Fascist Corporatism has the least moral authority ... only that which the Capitalist brings in from the remnants of Calvinist considerations for one's fellow man.

So, this is the point at which to introduce a concept from Barry Schwartz at TED. It is the concept of "incentive" v. "moral will and moral skill." The current Corporatists and Capitalists complain that Socialism provides no "incentives" for individuals to excel. They are incorrect, of course, but they miss the point that is crucial to the paradigm we as a People are about to create and pursue. It is that mere monetary incentives per se eviscerate moral will and destroy moral skills, the very things that liberal democracies depend upon as the antidote to the well-known problems of the human condition, the very thing that prompted the Founding Fathers to propose a form of government both strong and vital, but also checked and balanced against the all-too-familiar excesses of the human personality in the possession of the power of control.

It is and will be those who speak for the Commons who are possessed of the missing moral will and moral skill. It is the Commons that by definition unites us, the Commons that must above all other considerations be husbanded, cultivated, cared for, developed—yes, developed—and made the objective of Capital, the nexus of investment, the raison d'etre of management, the "happiness" we pursue.


Copyright © 2006-2010, James R. Brett.