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The Power of Reconceptualization: Three Easy Pieces

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Let us engage in a thought-experiment of sorts, my favorite pastime. The underlying thesis is that certain basic perceptions or suppositions we hold affect our entire outlook, the way we see the world and everything in it: change those perceptions somewhat, put on a different pair of spectacles, and so goes our worldview, I guarantee it. That’s the power of reconceptualization I’m talking about, "the vision thing” for short.

Our modern conception of politics is colored by what I consider more fundamental views concerning the different aspects of a modern society, economic and social.  At  rock-bottom these derive from our moral views as a civil society.

It is the peculiarity of America – of most of the West, in fact, which has adopted capitalism as the major mode of production – that our thinking about economics and economic processes should become the overall determinant of how we think about society, our fellow women and men, and of politics at large.  This hasn’t always been so. It’s a relatively modern phenomenon, peculiar to the West.  Our economic thinking has come to dictate how we think and feel about virtually all aspects of living, form social to political.

The division isn’t as clear-cut as I’m representing it to be. the economic, social and political spheres have always been intertwined when it comes to our ways of thinking and feeling, both now and in the past; they've always come as “complete package,” for lack of a better word, never totally separate or distinct from one another. The distinction I’m pressing for is more logical, therefore, than practical, more reflective of the analytical mindset than the empirical one. Even so, the direction of the linear progression (of views) that I argue for here – from the economic to the social and, ultimately, to the political – reflects the thinking of the average woman or man.   I present them to you here as a demonstration of how one affects the other. And it's politics that ends up getting a bum rap.

The ultimate question is: should it? must it?

Can we possibly reinvigorate our political thinking and practice and restore it to the way it was intended?

You decide.


Consider the following account:

Few will disagree that we’re in the midst of a big recession, comparable only to the Great Depression of 1929; and the parallels abound.

All sorts of indices are being invoked in support of the “continuity thesis,” the unshakable belief that our present circumstances are but a replica of past events, if not exactly in every conceivable respect than at least when it comes to the major contours; that for all intents and purposes, we could simply rewind the old movie like a VCR tape and see the present unfold just as it has unfolded once for our parents or grandparents in their lifetime; that what we’re going through right now is just another hiccup, the characteristic aspect of a capitalist system well known for the periodic occurrence and reoccurrence of business cycles, periods of bust and boom; that only if left to its own devices, the system would surely correct itself as it always has; that prosperity, thanks to the ingenuity of the business class, is only around the corner. And so on and so forth.

Indeed, we keep on talking of the unemployment index, presently at ten percent but much higher in real terms, surely unlikely to go down in the foreseeable future. And then, there is the talk of consumer confidence or lack thereof, again at its historical low, coupled of course with reduced inventories and empty shelf space. And last but not least, there is the usual talk of the correct strategies to get us over the hump and up and running again as only America can and will, the little ole engine that could. And it’s precisely in this context that Obama’s economic policies are being compared to those of his nominal predecessor, FDR, as to their efficacy, sound economic thinking, their raison d’être.

Is government spending (and expanding the public sector, which comes part and parcel with the idea) the proper remedy to get us out of the economic straits we’re in, or is it just going to prolong our misery and suffering? Should the private sector be allowed to rebuild itself of its own accord and start functioning again, or should the government intervene in the interim? Is the stimulus package – as an idea, mind you! not in this or that application – a sound economic policy, or is it just a shot in the dark, embraced with no other purpose in mind than to convince the public that doing something is better than doing nothing, a clever guise, perhaps, of trying to conflate the concepts of motion and action?

Never mind the vociferous critics of this devilish plan. They’ll be the first to assert that 1929 is in no way comparable to present times. And their argument is, we’re only adding to our national debt. What may have been possible in FDR times is no longer possible today. Monetarily and economically, we’re on the brink of disaster. Printing more money is only going to hasten our eventual demise and set us aback. In short, the argument is that everything else being equal, the two situations are incomparable, and they may be right.

I doubt their intent, however. Their objection, as I see it, is not so much to the incongruity between our present and our past (because that would imply a new vision) but to the idea itself.

So yes, that’s how I see it. The objections to the continuity thesis (between our present and our past) are but a pretext, merely an excuse for invoking obvious differences between the two situations for the sole purpose of defeating the main idea – the idea that government has any kind of role to play in determining the nation’s economic well-being. For the predominant proposition which informs the naysayers and the obstructionists is that government interference is anathema. Leave it to business, they say, and it will all be fine in the end.

I’m not going to debate now the merits or the demerits of the Keynesian theory. Economics, besides, is not a precise science; some have claimed it to be a dismal science in fact. Consequently, I can take refuge therefore in the fact, the refuge of a scoundrel, but I shan’t. And the main reason is – it’s no big feat to play a Monday-night quarterback or to invoke a 20/20 hindsight.

But even this misses the point, for I don’t see how some could possibly argue what exactly had gotten us out of the Great Depression – FDR’s all-out programs, the war effort, any or all of the above? As far as I am concerned, these are speculations, and there’ll never be a way of ascertaining the exact cause of events, what exactly caused what, which prong of policy was more instrumental than the other. It’s for historians to argue about and for ideologues to assert.

Fortunately, I have a way of bypassing the entire question. And in this spirit, I offer an alternative account.

We have reached the peak of our productive capacity in the good, old-fashioned sense of the term. Except in the area of computer technology and weaponry, high-tech industries for short, we’re no longer the world’s leading producer. It’s no wonder that most of our manufacturing jobs and the requisite technologies have moved overseas, and this trend will only continue. And why shouldn’t it since mass production is all about quantity, not quality: lowering production costs is the ultimate determinant.

Thus, we have effectively compounded the exploitative techniques of the colonial era whereby raw materials were imported for production at home. Today, it’s foreign labor that is being exploited, along with raw materials. Aside from providing the initial expertise and set-up, American companies, which still bear their logo on most of the products sold either domestically or on the global market, are playing the part of the middle man. They’re shadow companies, holding and finance companies in fact, their relationship to the actual producer of goods and services having been reduced to the status of a contractual relationship between a contractor and a subcontractor. Except for supplying their trademark, along with advertising, marketing, and financing, Honeywell, Stanley Tools, Chicago Cutlery, Hotpoint, Mr Coffee – look at your WalMart shelves and see for yourself!– all are manufactures and producers in name only. Even the French have succumbed to this obscene practice of brand-name deception. They, too, lend their name to products manufactured in China, anywhere else for that matter, only contributing thus to the illusion that we’re buying quality and reliability. Indeed, it’s almost impossible to buy a genuine article nowadays unless you shop at Gucci’s or Williams-Sonoma.

But this only reiterates the stark truth that we are not a nation of producers any longer, not when it comes to producing real and tangible products. This function we have long since relinquished. Is it any wonder, therefore, that in the past decade or so, apart now from the technology sector, “financial products,” dubious as they have been, have been the only ones which made the headlines, in which we have really excelled and showed true Yankee ingenuity?

With what disastrous results, I needn’t argue of course. But this only compounds the problem. Indeed, since technology, both in the real sense and as intellectual property, has become our major export and our only economic contribution to the world, we’re running out of economic space – areas of productive activity, I mean – in which to exercise our creativity, our know-how, our entrepreneurial spirit.

It’s for these reasons, mainly, that I view the recent Wall Street debacle, a burn-down or a meltdown, or however else you may want to call it, as a symptom of the disease rather than as its cause – a symptom of a capitalist system having reached its outer limits, of it having nowhere else to go but to self-destruct, of having to eat its own young when worst comes to worst (and that’s in spite of its long-term interests, mind you), of capital having become the be-all and end-all as its name surely implies, of a kind of psychosis whereby making money, paper money, any kind of money, takes precedence over real productivity, when only the bottom line counts and the dividends paid to the stockholders and keepers of the gate, whether yearly or quarterly, instead of spreading the wealth and bringing happiness and well-being to the world at large, never mind the home country and its populace.


Needless to say, there are social consequences and what comes with it, different outlooks which come with subscribing to either account. If the first-mentioned narrative is the one which you find convincing and which fires your imagination, you will tend to view our present unemployment and economic crises as temporary phenomena. Sure, you may empathize to a point with the armies of all those who have been laid off and support unemployment benefits within the limits allowable by law. But then again, you will be against their extension and regard the government as a major enabler.

And here, you will most likely fall back upon the old model inaugurated by the advent of the Great Society and the general concept of welfare which, rather than helping people help themselves, has only made them more dependent on their government for all their subsistence needs and then some, and created a sizeable underclass of welfare recipients and social parasites, which are a constant drain on the nation’s economy and the shrinking number of all those who still chose to remain productive. Indeed, in light of the working model which has served so well in the past, the present government policies can only be seen as perpetuating the malaise in thwarting individual initiative and encouraging a state of permanent dependence. In short, you’d tend to view the growing army of the unemployed as lazy bums and as society’s dregs.

What might you view be if you leaned toward the alternative scenario delineated in A?

Well, for one thing, you’d tend to view the present unemployment picture as chronic, soon to become a permanent feature of our society. And further, in regarding it as being systemic – which is to say, as being structurally-driven rather than representing just another business cycle or just another hiccup – you’d also tend to see it as a symptom of a system that had just ran against a brick wall, not as temporary consequence soon to be abated if and only if . . .

These are crucial differences as regards "the vision thing," and they’re not to be taken lightly. For if the alternative account is even halfway correct, it would appear that a greater and greater proportion of America's population is destined to be reduced to a state of chronic unemployment and condition of utter dependency. And that no government action, whether by way of retooling or re-educating the masses for new and exciting jobs of the 21st century, no amount of growing a business large or small, no kind of expansion whether of its own accord or as a result of artificially-induced measures such as tax incentives and the like – none of the above, whether taken singlehandedly or in tandem – would make a dent. A disproportionate number of the citizens, and their number is not about to decrease but only increase, is about to become totally dispensable and a permanent drain on the economy of the most industrial and technologically-advanced society that had ever existed.

And so, barring another technological revolution on an unprecedented scale (and here, “green jobs” possibly come to mind), the future does indeed look bleak as the vast majority of Americans are going to be left out of any productive kind of participation to speak of. Aside from the professions – in the medical field, weaponry- or computer & information technologies, and the researches from biological to hard sciences – and the government bureaucracy of course, the rest is destined to become burger flappers or service-industry workers if they get so lucky; but even those jobs won’t alleviate the growing number of the unemployed.

Robert Reich had it exactly right when he prophesied years ago that we’re about to become a nation of “symbolic analysts,” about ten percent of the total workforce, and the remaining ninety percent of the gainfully employed serving as gate keepers, the lowly security guards protecting the interests of the rich and famous. No mention was made, mind you, of the unemployed and the perennially unemployable, but that was over fifteen years ago. Even Reich couldn’t foresee the extent to which capitalism, rampant and unabashed, would dig its own grave. One would have to be a true visionary.

But such, perhaps, are the wages of a system that is bound on forever expanding in the interest of ever-greater efficiency. And the price seems to be that however much or minimally the standard of living the world over improves as a result of capitalism’s relentless expansion – and there is no doubt that it does – the local population suffers.

So perhaps we shouldn’t begrudge the rest of the world catching up with us, or rather, us getting down to the level of the pre-industrial nations, not if the gains outweigh the losses, I hasten to add. But do they or have they? And was the sacrifice worth it? Even if one were to consider the beneficial aspects of capitalistic expansion, resulting as it invariably does in the good old leveling effect, most Americans would resoundingly say “no.”

Indeed, therein lies the irony of our age. Whereas the industrial revolution, despite its many hardships and excesses, was instrumental in having brought about full or near-full employment to the masses, improved the material conditions of the average life, and generally speaking, put the working class on the map, the technological revolution, in progress and still unfolding – presumably a higher stage of capitalism’s spectacular advance – appears to have resulted in precisely the opposite effect: it renders a great majority of the earth’s population useless, or at least only marginally productive. It’s as though the very efficiency of the system, its quest for marginal utility, was its own worst enemy. And if this isn’t indicative of a deep-seated, inherent contradiction, I don’t know what is.


If you embrace the earlier vision, you’re likely to speak of individual freedom, liberty, and limited government, because you’ll view the expansion of the latter as encroachment on your constitutionally-guaranteed rights. You’ll see our political, two-party system as a kind of forum, a clearing house for the amicable interplay between public and private interests and their equally amicable or less amicable resolution. And among private interests, you’re definitely going to count your own (economic) freedom to do what you will and pursue financial independence, as well as freedom on the part of corporations to do likewise (for how could you deny the latter while asserting the former?) Consequently, anything or anyone standing in the way of such freedoms, whether the government or the unions, you’d tend to regard as an obstacle, contrary to the spirit of free enterprise.

Inherent in this picture is also the idea that the notion of the public good is pure fiction, a mere figment of the liberal mindset, that it all revolves about individual rights without any reference to a larger community or society, that government interference in the “natural” order of things, any kind of interference, is just that, pure interference, and that the idea of social justice and social retribution is not only ill-conceived but in fact sacrilegious.

What might the other view be?

Well, for one thing, you’d come to realize that the economic shape of the world has well-nigh affected the world’s political landscape. In particular, you’d come to see that our major corporations are no longer ours in any sense of the word but that they’ve come to represent their own self-defined interests rather than national interests or the interests of the citizens. Indeed, the entire countries – and Greece is a perfect example – can become hostage nowadays to financial manipulations and the economic order of things, with the result that the political, again in the old-fashioned sense, is quickly becoming subservient to the economic; that it’s quickly becoming a façade, a superstructure in the Marxian sense of the word, along with the attendant set of laws which, though commonly understood to guarantee due process and the inviolability of the individual, is in effect but another subtle instrument of coercion, only providing an aura of legitimacy to the ruling/economic class. Indeed, you’d come to see that most of what appears nowadays as being undertaken in this or that national interest is in effect nothing but posturing; that national interests, and actions taken on behalf of national interests, are in reality, becoming pre-emptied; that they’re global economic interests first and foremost, only masquerading as political. (I’m speaking of the major players of course.)

Instead of the usual dialectic between individual freedoms, on the one hand, and government interference on the other, you’d be more inclined to talk of the natural opposition between private and public interests, and of the public good as the desirable end, the noble aim of compromise for which politics was so ideally suited, so we’ve been told. Indeed, this used to be a respectable kind of talk once upon a time.

No longer! The private interests have so pre-emptied public interests and become so dominant an aspect of the economic order of things that there is no viable opposition any longer, no room for compromise; they’ve become, in fact, mortal enemies, forever estranged and irreconcilable, antithetical to the core. And the notion of the public good, the presumed resultant of the two forces opposite but equal, has all but disappeared from our political itinerary. Indeed, there’s no longer any middle ground to be hoped for in the requisite sense of reaching a sensible solution (the pending healthcare legislation before us being a case in point). Now, it’s either all or nothing at all, a zero-sum game, complete and total polarization; and any semblance of having resolved what, for all practical purposes, is no longer resolvable, is bound to be a farce and an exercise in futility.


The thinkers of old (Aristotle, Plato) had a soft spot for the idea and practice of politics as somehow defining a niche all its own, separate and distinct from spheres economic and social. The latter was presumed if not to follow from (as a matter of direct or natural consequence), then eventually be guided by, society’s political organization and structure. As to the former, I’m afraid the ancients were rather silent on this subject, although it must be presumed that a certain economic stability and order have always served as a tacit assumption of sorts, as a kind of prerequisite in order for there to be a human society at all, and a political society at that.

But to cut to the chase, the classical notion of politics was that of an art (or science) – both forms of human activity and practice – whose main if not express purpose was to provide a badly-needed corrective, ever-present, always needed, and always intact, a kind of organizational model of the highest order to serve as a general pattern after which to mold all human and social relations, in the interest (need I say?) of attaining a harmonious and relatively conflict-free, orderly society. And the spirit behind, and informing, “the political” in the traditional, classical sense was of course justice, justice in all matters applicable to human relations, be they individual, social or economic. (Don’t forget, according to classical thinkers, politics was but an extension of the moral – the rule of conduct deemed appropriate to govern person-to-person relations – to come to govern all social relations, the entire society in fact.)

Well, it would seem that we’ve moved quite a ways from the classical conception. Apart from some obscure theorists (Claude Frédéric Bastiat comes to mind), the uninformed opinion seems to be that politics, properly understood, ought to be but an expression of the economic order of things and the resulting social order, that it ought to do nothing other than do the latter’s bidding. If free enterprise is the spirit of the day, then by all means, let our politics reflect that spirit. If slavery is in order, then let it reflect that too. Whatever suits public opinion or the sentiment of the day, let politics serve as a stamp of approval, the ultimate validation of things that are simply because (that’s how) they are.

I find such a concept not only abhorrent but intellectually repulsive. It amounts to relinquishing our capacity for judgment, our being able evaluate our situation, our life condition, other than in terms that are strictly self-serving, which is to say, in terms of some other, independent criteria. Politics properly understood, as conceived of by the ancients, was supposed to do this very trick. Nowadays, it’s been stood on its head. It’s been made to justify rather than to question or to correct.

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About Roger Nowosielski

  • Roger, this looks like a long article. Will have to come back later and read it when I have a lot of time. I am no speed reader.

  • Doug Hunter

    Thanks for an interesting article. You do a better job than most of synthesizing your opponents argument. As always, in the end it becomes a caricature, either at the limits of understanding another value system or to make you critique easier (a more nuanced strawman).

    Allow me to give you my thoughts while I took your article in.

    1) Peak capacity has not been reached, I believe energy is becoming a factor now but significant resources are being devoted to the topic (Bill Gates and the 100year depleted Uranium reactor comes immediately to mind, but there are others).

    2) You lost me where you indicated greater efficiency led to our manufacturing base moving to China, that’s backwards to how I understand the situation. We got wealthy, lazy, and entitled and decided we wanted to leave those jobs ‘Americans won’t do’ to the Chinese and Mexicans. They became more efficient and beat us in our own competition. End result: lots of wealth transfer from the rich and entitled first world to the struggling and poverty stricken third world. Sounds like something you’d be in to to me.

    3)Exploited? By exploited you mean given a free choice to bring themselves up from the starvation inducing miserable life of a subsistence farmer and into the industrial age while creating an abundance of low cost goods that enables a better standard of living in the entire world. Sounds more like win-win than exploitation.

    4) The ‘underclass’. As bad as you hate it there is some truth to this. Although it shouldn’t take a study to point out, when you pay or reward someone for doing something you increase the likelihood of that ‘something’ occuring. If you pay people not to find work, they won’t. If you pay single mothers to have kids, they’ll make sure they’re single when they do. I know these things happen because I’ve seen firsthand, I’ve seen people not take jobs because they could get by on unemployment, I’ve seen people admit cheating workmen’s comp and disability benefits, I’ve personally had several couples tell me they wouldn’t get married because they’d lose specific government benefits. I know this happens firstand and I know it happens a lot. This is a logical result of a system set up to reward failure. It’s not all that hard to find compromise ideas that take care of the needy and limit the reward for failure, but I see very few being put forth.

    5) Outsourcing is a natural result of wealth, it’s no different from an individual hiring a housekeeper. When an individual is no longer wealthy (or the housekeeper finds a higher paying job and quits) the person can easily go back to cleaning their own house. (I still don’t fully understand why you so dislike the capitalist leveling effect yet cling so to government’s blunt and arbitrary attempts at the same thing)

    You have another great point in the article in regards to being able to determine cause and effect. We never know what policies did what or what life might have been like with a different choice (one of the reasons I like using states to try out different ideas rather than the feds) There are no control groups and no do overs. I believe capitalism and the individual freedom it entails have been a great boon to humanity. Contrast what capitalist ‘exploitation’ has done to Asia, pulling them out of poverty and into real competition with Europe and the USA with what nice liberal handouts, complete with bags of rice and boatloads of condoms, have accomplished for Africa.

    Capitalism eliminates poverty in it’s wake (or changes the definition from $1/day to $20,000 per year for you liberals), levels the playing field on a macroscale and rewards merit, increases demand for education and an educated workforce, ties a selfish desire for money to creating products and services which benefit everyone, and requires freedom as a central tenet.

    Capitalism isn’t done yet as long as there are those in abject poverty ready to be ‘exploited’ into the 21st century. Because we exist at the pinnacle of wealth and technology it takes a visionary to see any direction but down. We might cannibalize our kids future, sit back and burn our inheritance while others pass us… or not. I’m thinking we might ease back the throttle for awhile on capitalism (workers do need their rest) but it’ll be back once someone else has shown us the way.

    Americans aren’t content with second place.

  • Thanks for giving this rather long article a read, Doug. I would have liked to shorten it, but I guess impatience won the day.

    I’d just like to say that my object here wasn’t so much to argue which vision is more correct one – only to try to show how what many regard as usual political disagreements – especially radical disagreements – run way deeper than most people would suspect.

    As to point #1, I spoke of “reaching peak capacity” in the traditional, manufacturing sense and given the present status quo. Of course I make an allowance for major technological innovations, especially in the energy field. I doubt, however, that even assuming such a scenario will alleviate the growing unemployment problem. I just think it’s in the natural of a technological revolution (as opposed to an industrial one) that it doesn’t call for significant improvement of the employment picture: fewer and fewer people are needed for technology to do its job.

    Point #2: Can you really ignore the fact that transferring manufacturing operations to China and Third World countries wasn’t driven by cheaper labor costs? And that’s in spite of the rather valid point you’re making that yes, we’ve become “fat and lazy.”

    #3: I believe I granted that the system does help improving living standards worldwide, however minimally. But my use of the term “exploiting” is rather neutral here – to mean “with respect to the home country.” So just as during the colonial period, the colonies were “exploited” as regards raw material, we do likewise today with respect to labor. In short, I’m not particularly hung up by the denotation of the term.

    Lastly, when you say Americans aren’t content with second place – whom exactly do you mean? It would seem that many have already accepted that kind of reality – or are soon to do so.

    So perhaps our greatest difference revolves around the fact that you’re still thinking in terms of our past, in terms of how things have been; I, on the other hand, happen to believe that we’ll all undergoing a major political, economic and social shift due to forces not necessarily of our own making, but forces which, nonetheless, are no less impending or determinate for the fact – that we may no longer have to ability or the will to stop it.

  • Doug Hunter

    It was long, but interesting. Too many things to address in a single comment. Unfortunately, I have to go do some wealth generation of my own, after that I’ll be back to explain my views in light of the points in #3.

  • Mark

    Rog, I appreciate your final appeal to a moral aesthetic. Hardly a well defined decision procedure, but nice.

    I’ll have some more half baked comments to make after a bit.

  • I’m not sure why this wasn’t submited to Digg by the editor, so I did it for ya.


  • Thanks, Jet.

  • I’d say you’re welcome but I know how you feel about me leaving comments on other’s articles…


  • Roger,

    Our economic thinking has come to dictate how we think and feel about virtually all aspects of living, form social to political.

    Well, what is the alternative that could correct this?

    The stark truth that we are not a nation of producers any longer, not when it comes to producing real and tangible products.

    Here we stand at the edge of a new green world with clean renewable energy and the promise of jobs! What is the hold-up?

    you’d tend to view the growing army of the unemployed as lazy bums and as society’s dregs.

    Who is viewing them this way, you? We have a right to some help in this brave new world, and if the obstructionists are that afraid of change, then maybe they should get the hell out of the way.

    Inherent in this picture is also the idea that the notion of the public good is pure fiction, a mere figment of the liberal mindset, that it all revolves about individual rights without any reference to a larger community or society, that government interference in the “natural” order of things, any kind of interference, is just that, pure interference, and that the idea of social justice and social retribution is not only ill-conceived but in fact sacrilegious.

    Now this really bothers me, Roger. Are you saying that social justice is only a figment of our imaginations?

    The notion of the public good, the presumed resultant of the two forces opposite but equal, has all but disappeared from our political itinerary.

    Well we better bring it back!

    : ) You can’t say I didn’t try…I dugg it for you 2!

  • Jeannie,

    I was presenting two different pictures. Yes, technological innovations in energy and green jobs could turn things around, but we’re not there yet.

    As to politics, I argue at the end that it supposed to have integrity all its own – to correct injustices rather than to justify them. You can’t have a viable political system if it derives from mere status quo. It has got to transcend the status quo.

    The conservatives view the unemployed as “lazy bums,” not I.

    Of course, the notion of the public good ought not to be regarded as fiction. But given the existing disparity between public and private interests, there is no longer room, I argue, for reconciliation and for the idea of the public good to serve as a realistic, if not desirable, objective of both parties to the dispute. It has become an impossible dream (Man from La Mancha).

    Thanks for giving a read to my three not so easy pieces.

  • Roger,

    This is from American Progress Interactive pie

    “Take a look around and decide for yourself if slashing non-defense discretionary spending is really as painless as some say it is. You might be surprised at what you find.”

    : )I thought you would like to see this.

  • That was cool, Jeannie.

  • Mark

    While the article focuses on the differences that follow from the perspectives, it could be useful to look at shared moral assumptions. Thus, both perspectives are based on the morality of ‘the exchange’ — people overproduce (and thereby create wealth) in order to trade ‘like for like’…

  • A heck of a comment, Mark. You’re right in that both perspectives do appear to share the same assumptions as regards the value of a capitalist system – the main difference being that the latter one is critical of the systems ability to persevere.

  • On second thought,

    Perhaps it is better strategy to argue for inherent contradictions of a system – discernible from present circumstances – contradictions which, among other things, demonstrate certain built-in inequities, rather than starting out with basic moral presumptions?

  • Long article, but interesting. Nothing is black or white or cut or dried, we’re all intertwined in this mess.

  • Arch Conservative

    I saw “Three Easy Pieces” and figured this article was about Bart Stupak selling his soul on ebay but I was wrong.

  • Allusion to a Jack Nicholson movie, Archie.

    I’ll leave the subject of Bart Stupak playing Faust to those who feel so inclined.

  • Zedd


    Have you considered the fact that the philosophers were never politicians.

    There is a practical aspect to leadership. You have to deal with how to ensure that your subjects survive. We survive by consuming. Consumption introduces economics. So our leaders have to see economics as the most relevant preoccupation. Because of the complications that come with organizing human beings, often times leadership always gets stuck focusing on the economics and cant move towards the loftier engagements that you would support.

    The idea of the philosopher king is wonderful. In my opinion we have the best version of that model in place currently. What will move us towards your style of engagement will be leadership which is not afraid to address the economics and then move on to the other considerations. What has been happening is that the discussion has remained stuck on economics because of bottle neck that in my opinion has been manufactured by the wealthy in order to keep legislators preoccupied.

    I am super sleepy an am currently under the impression that I have stated what I intend to say but if you read this and it sounds like I am just rambling, please understand, I posted while dozing. I will have to read it tomorrow to see if I said what I meant to say.

  • Zedd

    I take it back some were politicians of a sort but they were more fund of other preoccupations.

  • I believe I make the point, Zedd, that economics serves as the basic structure in order for there to be a stable human society, never mind a political society. Once such a structure is in place, however, or – shall we say? – can be taken for granted, I think it’s reasonable to shoot for the kind of politics which can live up a higher standard originally intended for it (and inherent in the very notion).

    Point number two: The article concerns itself with a special case – namely, the US, indisputably the most industrial and technologically-developed society ever (if not at present then at least a few decades ago). And given this context, it’s beyond question that – again, speaking of our recent past – we had all the makings of an economically stable society, which in turn, spelled a great deal of promise.

    Ergo: the very fact that in a relatively few short years we have squandered that promise and allowed the business side turn things upside down and become a force unto itself is proof, I argue, of failed politics. It wasn’t practiced as the art it ought to be.

    Point three: If we assume that politics can be thought of as an art form, we can further assume that not all practitioners need be “artists,” because an art form implies a way of doing things which are integral to the practice. Besides, I argue not so much for politics as an art form as for an idea of politics as a kind of corrective – aiming at (social) justice. And the idea of justice is not the exclusive province of philosophers but, we can rightly assume, accessible to Everyman.

    Which isn’t to say there is no need for able and talented people in politics, true statesmen – only that not every politician need be a philosopher.

  • Zedd


    “Ergo: the very fact that in a relatively few short years we have squandered that promise and allowed the business side turn things upside down and become a force unto itself is proof, I argue, of failed politics. ”


    Did you say that in the article? I may have missed it while trying to hurry through it. It felt as if you alluded to it but weren’t as crystal clear as you were in your recap. I am pretty sure however that it was my mistep. I missed it.

    I remember commentary by Cokie Roberts talking about how the legislative body made laws during the time of her parents. What she describes sounds like the art form that you so eloquently speak of.

    What may have effected the progression in the fine tuning of this art form is the detour – an idea run-a-muck – if you will. The application of business principals into politics, looking at the public as one would customers and making the goal, closing the sale (retaining power for as long as possible). The justification was that if we attain, then retain power, we can implement our version of what is just. What ended up happening is that the means became the end. So propaganda and pr, rhetoric, sound bites, talking points, gotcha politics became the name of the game.

    I’d like to go further and actually deal with the points that you make in your article and in your response and hope that we will continue to discuss however I am going to veer for just a second while I still have this thought… It’s still relevant however

    I believe that since we have become distracted from the pursuit of justice by those with economic interests, it may be wisest to use those institutions (big business) to regain control of the political sphere. For instance, the health care debate has at its core, the same discussion about the distribution of wealth. What is smart is to use business to help justice move forward. If we give business what is enough, they will move out of the way and allow for what is good and just to take place. In this case, we give them more customers, they rejoice and a health care bill is signed. It’s not the one we want but we move closer to what is just. Perhaps this is the way to move towards an institution that exists for the purpose that you speak of.

    More rambles again roger. I do apologize. I only find time to type, late in the evening. I hope you will find something to comment about as I would like to explore this further.

  • Great comment, Zedd, deserving a detailed response. It’s been a long day, however, but I promise to respond as best I can tomorrow.

    Thank you again.

  • Zedd


    I do understand that by giving in to corporate interests (paying off the wealthy) in order to govern, we are diminishing our claim to freedom. However, I think at this point, it is a necessary evil. Off course this strategy cant be the only method employed to reclaim governance. There has to be a concerted effort put towards changing the dialogue. Just as the clamouring to usurp the minds of the public in order to take hold of power was strategically orchestrated, so should the effort to reignite their passion for what is simply just. There would have to be a broadening of the dialogue and a deliberate destruction of the communication infrastructure that is in place currently. Nothing violent off course :o), just a concerted, smart strategy to dismantle dumb (or chaos), as the pervasive voice.

  • You’re taking me off my game, Zedd. I’ll respond within two hours.

  • OK, Zedd, I’m going to have to take it in stages since there are many points to cover.

    First, the aim of the article wasn’t necessarily to argue for one perspective over another, only to demonstrate the extent to which our political views derive from other perspectives – in this case, our views of the social and economic processes. Ultimately, of course, it goes even deeper than than – the rock bottom has got to be our values, moral values that is, or our inettention to them, which determine our, for the most cases, unexamined political views.

    So that’s why, perhaps, you haven’t seen any clear argument on my part against any particular position – because it simply wasn’t there. That wasn’t the object.

  • Let me deal now with the following excerpt from your #22:

    “The application of business principals into politics, looking at the public as one would customers and making the goal, closing the sale (retaining power for as long as possible). The justification was that if we attain, then retain power, we can implement our version of what is just. What ended up happening is that the means became the end. So propaganda and pr, rhetoric, sound bites, talking points, gotcha politics became the name of the game.”

    Actually, this is a very astute observation, Zedd, reinvisaging politics on a business model. Perhaps I would have been less struck by I had it not been for some readings I’ve done on the side. There is a term for this very thing you are describing: it’s called “commodification.” I think you can grasp the meanining intuitively, so I’m going to proceed on this assumption.

    The problem of course with commodification of politics is that it perverts its nature. In fact, any type of commodification is a kind of shortcut – doing away with judgment and thinking processes, and in so doing, it turns us into mindless consumers.

    It is mainly for that reason that I’m having a problem with your last comment – about co-opting the ruling class into “doing good” or into “behaving.”

    I realize your impulse for saying that, the reason being to bring about the public good incrementally, doing whatever it takes. And on face value, of course, you’re true to a dictum of politics being an art of the compromise. And I’ll go along with that to a point, but only to a point. But what you’re suggesting amounts in fact to bribery – indeed, extending the business model for doing politics to the fullest: and so you say, “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”

    But perhaps I’m being unfair to your idea, in which case, try to spell it out some more. In the following comment, I’ll give you my reason(s) why this wouldn’t work.

  • Zedd

    What does that mean?

  • Zedd

    #28 was in response to #25 :o)

  • It simply means you’re throwing me curveballs. Which is good.

  • Zedd


    I am saying, “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” I say that because that is what they have been saying to the public hence the state that you write about.

    Big business already thinks that that is as how things should be. Those who have attempted to make political engagement about something more noble have found themselves ineffective and basically spinning their wheels. In many cases they have frustrated us for not being able to make things happen, BECAUSE of their commitment to the more noble task. So yes, lets do play with the big boys, and then beat them at their game. Play them out of the game. Example: If we have mandatory health coverage (which I am furious about), the big boys become ecstatic. They focus on their expanding profits a go about the business of being businesses. The public (me) softens as we come to see that what is in place isn’t so bad. The dialogue expands to ways to improve the system further, this time with less resistance. Innovation takes place, ideas flow, new and better legislation that serves the public good.

    Ehhhh… Its kinda weak but a good attempt at making the argument for engaging the powers that be instead of defending ourselves from them to the point of gridlock.

    BTW I love the term commodification. I will have to find an excuse to use it before day’s end. It’s a must.

  • That’s spelling it out beyond your original comment; at least, you gave you a bone to chew on. But let me introduce first you to my set up.

    I am proceeding from the assumption that the system is broken – beyond fixing. Which is precisely why I view the conflict between private and public interests as irreconciliable (reread that part of the article). Perhaps a more accurate way of stating this would be to say that public interests are no longer on the agenda.

    Case in point: in Rome, for instance, they insttituted the office of Tribune, Tribune of the People – to represent the plebeian interests. And this was because of the recognition that the plebs needed representation. Today, we’re operating under the illusion that the people are represented but it’s a farce. The public good no longer has its advocates: all representatives are tainted by money interests; and any legislation which passes on behalf of “public good” is a farce, too.

    So given these assumption, my immediate response to your well-meaning proposal would be: sheeps cannot negotiate with wolves.

    So that’s one dimension/moment of the analysis – description of the status quo.

  • Let’s move on to the second moment (of analysis) since the first one isn’t very promising: let’s call it a futuristic moment.

    We are undergoing radical changes, not just in America but worldwide. Globalization is upon us, and from the economic standpoint it’s as good as fait accompli. Politics will follow, as the idea of nation-states will soon become obsolete.

    Look at how Greece, a political entity in its own right, can become hijacked by financial interests. In the past, cities could come to a standstill and become bankrupt (NYC, for example, during the sanitation strike); now the entire countries can become vulnerable; no one is immune. So do you really suppose that political entities are going to remain hostage to such takeovers? And for how long, before push comes to shove?

    There’s also the growing unrest due to the chronic unemployment picture; it’s not going to go away.

    So anyway, to cut to the chase, look to radical changes not only in national politics but in geopolitics – perhaps even a political takeover of all big business. Far fetched, you say? Why? That’s already the case in China and Russia. Nationalization of the healthcare industry – we’re quite a long way from there yet – is but another piece in the puzzle. Look for nationalization of banks, all energy-related business, etcetera and etcetera. Far fetched? Again, look and see if it ain’t already happening.

    Consequently, according to the second momement, the futuristic scenario, the goverments are going to break the business’s back (just like Reagan had boasted that he broke the backs of the air-traffic controllers.)

    Again, according to scenario, it’s no negotiations or sweet talk that’s going to restore semblance of co-operation and responsible behavior but hard historical forces at work. Do I wish for that to happen? Perhaps not. But then again, it’s got nothing to do with my or anybody elses wishes. The forces of history will reassert themselves on us with the kind of impact we can’t even foresee.

  • For the third moment – I call it creative resistance – I have to refer you, Zedd, to the Bye-Bye thread. Read the last two or three pages of it perhaps to get your feet wet. But you do have sufficient intellectual sophistication to be able to jump right in – not to mention the right kind of spirit. I promise it would be fun.

  • Zedd


    “So given these assumption, my immediate response to your well-meaning proposal would be: sheeps cannot negotiate with wolves.”

    I agree, however wolves in sheep’s clothing can negotiate with wolves. There is might in intellect. Those that would desire a brave new world would have to be fierce giants (intellectually) and see themselves as such. Passive approaches are futile, however a gentlemanly demolition is always much more effective.

    “hard historical forces at work. Do I wish for that to happen?”

    Absolutely not roger! You should not as should I… not that is. You forget that regardless of the institution, people are people. The most greedy will claw their way to the top. If the top is government, there they will be. If it is business, you will find them there. The scoundrols that have to respect for virtue will certainly find themselves in whatever new order one establishes.

    What has to happen is a changing of the minds. You have to create a populous that wants justice. Not merely a leadership that wants it. Right now the public wants stuff, because they have been trained that way. A deliberate, strategic approach, much like that which brought us to this point would be the simplest way to arrive. Otherwise, nothing short of a cataclysmic occurrence (a la a world wide depression) will push us towards sanity.

  • Zedd

    I will look at your thoughts on “creative resistance” when time permits. Thanks for indulging my unscholarly, “shot from the hip”, reactions. However undocumented, I think they are fairly solid 😛

  • Your reactions are very solid, Zedd – never mind the scholarly BS – and they deserve a far more extensive comment than I can possibly oblige within the space allotted. It’s for this reason and no other that I made the suggestion I did.

  • Just read your previous comment:

    “What has to happen is a changing of the minds. You have to create a populous that wants justice.”

    Precisely. But my argument is, before things get better they must get worse first. We need a kick in the butt. Again, not that I’m wishing for it; it’s going to happen regardless.

    We’re not really that far apart in our thinking as you may suppose.

  • zedd


    You forget that I am female. We tend to consider the implications of an apocalyptic event on the psyche; the emotions and mainly the effect on children coming up during those tumultuous times (even if the upheaval may result in renewal). We are more apt to support a less drastic solution because more so than not, we have to do the nurturing.

  • But that’s great. You’re crazy if you think I don’t need a balancing view. I see now why you kind of chilled as a result of my rather dramatic representation. I’ll be more mindful in the future and, if need be, preface my remarks accordingly. BTW, I’m not being sarcastic at all.


  • zedd


    It’s perfectly fine for you to voice your views just as you would. I guess I was just illuminating the cause for my, yes chilled take. I’m guessing your socialization doesn’t put those considerations that much in the fore as you make plans. I guess we really do need more women in power.

    There was a wonderful piece today about Pelosi and how her leadership style is like that of a tough mom. They say it’s like she has eyes in the back of her head. Her ability to sense what is going on in the House is unparalleled, her colleagues say. It seems that she brings something different to the job. Interesting….

  • Well, no, woman are androgynous to me as far as mind goes, especially on the net. You don’t think I’m like that in person – lacking in socialization, that is. But I’m sure glad you making a point of it. I guess I took you for too strong a person and forgot you’re also a woman.

    As to woman power, definitely count me in. The more the better. Yes, Nancy P was getting a bad rap all along – I do call her by her first name for a number of reasons – while she was doing tremendous job behind the scenes. And it didn’t stop her none, did it, while being villainized by the opposition. Just went about doing her job.

  • zedd


    Not to over discuss the matter… I’m pretty sure that you know that I am tough as nails when it comes to dialogue. I enjoy a mental challenge possibly more than anything. Not to be sexist, I actually enjoy discussing with men quite a bit because they tend to focus and not take things personally (with the exception of Jet) :o) so be very weary… I can more than certainly hold my own.

    On the gender issue, I was basically saying that we bring a different perspective because of our BROADER view. You’ll probably nail me for that statement but its true. When I said “remember I am female” I was saying remember there are things that I dont overlook. :o) You guys tend to forget about the exponential ramifications of your actions. (Off course we tend to over think). Yes, before you have at me, I am generalizing.

    Side note – I like the gender differences, love love love being female.

  • zedd


    What date was the article that you were pointing me to written so I can get to it easily?

  • Here’s the link, Zedd; it’s not the article but the thread.

    And BTW, I feel equally mesmerized by the female mind; never met a woman yet I didn’t like (no. it’s not a sexist statement), so don’t expect any disagreement from me on that score.

    I’m turning in before you turn me into an elf; but tomorrow for sure.


  • Zedd


    I just haven’t had the time to read that insanely long thread. I thought I was going to read a few comments but over 2000 is beyond my limit.

    I hope that I will have another opportunity to gain a better understanding of the direction that you believe things should go in.

  • You don’t need to read all – just four or five pages. Then, I’ll bring you up to speed.

    BTW, I have an apology to make. My comments re: the British rule in India were based on the Freedom at Midnight – which covers but the last stage of the struggle for Indian independence, with Lord Mountbatten as the last Viceroy and when the Crown had at last resigned itself to the idea.

    My recent viewing of the Gandhi motion picture convinced me that the English rule was as cruel and merciless as that of any other colonial power.