Wednesday, October 23, 2019

#14 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (Mephistopheles redux)


One of the most cogent and penetrating books on the shelves in our home is entitled,  The Manufacture of Evil, ( Ethics , Evolution and the Industrial System, Harper & Row, 1987) by Lionel Tiger. The Rutgers anthropologist is focused in this work on the implications of an industrial system which has generated a remarkable range of products and services, while also generating outcomes no one wanted.

The industrial system, primarily one of manufacturing, has generated processes, methods, and especially perceptions of right and wrong.

“(T)he industrial age has yielded no commanding ethical scheme with which to operate our social lives…We struggle to adapt the new efficiency of laboratories and factories to the eternal verities of shepherds. Not without results….Is there clear-cut enjoyment of the moral and aesthetic quality of (workers’) lives outside their immediate circles or even within them. Complaints abound about impersonality, alienation, the coldness of the iron law of bureaucracy, the4 strangely willful impact of large-scale structure on small-scale needs and wants, a host of complaints, while they echo some similar ones in the past, are currently identified as pathologies of our way of life, as problems for our solution, as dilemmas of our creation.” (Tiger, op. cit. p.2)

Written in 1987, this assessment offers a template for some questions about how we might diagnose, analyse, and mediate another technological revolution, following the dismemberment of the manufacturing sector, insofar as North America is concerned. And, once again, without adequate preparation, education, and even clinical study of the many implications of the digital revolution, we find ourselves without a road map to address, and then hopefully to cope with the enhanced virtual abandonment of millions of people who were once gainfully engaged in factory jobs.

Tiger’s warning back in 1987 still stands the test of time, even when viewed from three decades later. He writes: “Operating an industrial community without such monitors is like creating a swift strong tank without steering. The newness of the effort to monitor it reflects a characteristic of the system itself worth exploring in depth.” (Ibid, p. 3)
Reflecting on the sources of evil, Tiger continues:

“Exposes are principally about evil, not goodness. We remain fascinated b y malefactor5s and malfeasance, outraged at the incidence of evil in the world, surprised and shocked when it touches us. Perhaps this has always been so. But once upon a time, evil was personified. Evil was Mephistopheles or the Devil. Colourfully costumed. Almost flavorful, altogether identifiable, a clarified being from another world. But in the industrial system evil has become systematized. The production has become technologized, internationalized, multinationalized, and especially in times of war and high zealotry, officially rhapsodized. Just as industrialism has radically altered the ways and means of making and distributing, it has also altered the moral structure within which we live. Yet malefactors are hard to spot. They no longer boast horns and wear suits with tails, but rather three-piece suits and sometimes turtleneck sweaters of cashmere wool or magenta blouses of tailored silk….I want to learn more about how a particular species of primate coexists with a particular system of economy which it made but which is different from the kind of economy which in the past made it. How does the creature respond to industrial food, industrial space, industrial smells, industrial groups, the industrial model of existence?....The whole situation is at the poetic extreme of any possible consciousness of evil. (Ibid, p. 3-4)

Postulating that we have grafted the capacity to “manufacture” evil onto our social consciousness, Tiger’s work begs some very powerful and extant questions about how we incubate our culture and our collective consciousness, not to mention the connections between that and our collective unconscious.

First, why is that whatever “technological” device/system/hardware/software is discovered and developed has an automatic halo of sanctity, and an immediate “gold rush” of investors climbing over each other to secure the rewards of their prescient, if risky, investment as venture capitalists?

Why is it not only possible but even encouraged, for the developers of new technology (including weapons, drugs, and devices for new methods of communication, entertainment, and thereby of generating additional revenue) to act without oversight, without social constraint, without clinical trials, and without the kind of research that limits the negative (evil) impacts of the new designs?

Why is it that we remain oblivious to the potential negative (evil) impact of any new discovery/design/device/process/algorithm both personally and collectively, defaulting instead to the “profit-generating” “corporate-template” of how to think about the future, the present and the past?

Tiger, later in his work, writes an explosive observation whose veracity and prophetic vision are hard to refute:

I suggest that even social life is viewed as a product, that an important theme of contemporary popular writing and adult education has to do with equipping people to better manage their social activity, to maximize its effectiveness, as if an individual life were a business enterprise….The John Locke theory, tabula rasa, (the infant blank slate on which all of life’s tutorial experiences are written) fit neatly with the Pavlovian to support a system committed to significant change and to optimizing human capacities. Another version of Adam Smith’s conception of ,economic rationality, this one with the idea of maximizing human capital or resources rather than economic, but nevertheless based on a similar view of life-as-enterprise. The dominance of economic individualism has been accompanied by a seemingly inexorable movement toward psychological individualism. This is not restricted to the education of the 3young. The principle is lately extended throughout the life cycle. The “human potential movement” celebrates the self-enhancing value of miserable and punishing situations—even for those who die, if one is to treat seriously Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s extreme perspective. Pan-gloss psychobabbling in California. The idea of the individual as a psychological entity is in close accord with the requirements of an emerging industrial system that needed people to be mobile both physically and emotionally and that could benefit as a community from both increased consumption and production by people, one supported the other. And the individual supported himself or herself. (Tiger, op. cit. p.135-136)
While sniping at the self-help movement originating with the Victorian Samuel Smiles,* Tiger himself writes:

(The) mechanism of individualism remains, the mechanism of a questing creature seeking more and better experience, not content with the great china of being, not intimidated by the possible hubris of challenging the self and its limits and options. This is colourful and surely often fun, and may indeed yield real increments of competence and enriched existence. It results in a quite striking, perhaps novel form of society, in which there is hardly a full-throated society at   rather what I called in Optimism, a ‘psychiety.’ This is a system of life in which the principal unit of action is the individual not the social group itself—the final atomization of Gesselschaft. And not only the economic system was committed to an Adam Smithian model of individual rational decision making. Now even the social system, too, has been predicted on individual endeavor. Not only endeavor. In an analogue of capital investment, the individual is seen as a sui generis enterprise, the value of which is improvable by investment of money and time as education, or therapy, or the books…which are frequently tax-deductible as business costs. Everyman is an independent contractor. The educational system is central to all this, Once principally an agent for mobility up the social loader for the poor and maintaining the status of the affluent, now the schooling system is partially adapted to a form of inner mobility. (Ibid, p. 137)

Surely, we can all see how exponentially has this dynamic evolved, amid a flurry of political, corporate public and regulation-based-secret decisions, actions and failures. The labour movement has been decimated; the manufacturing sector has sought and found the lowest labour and environmental costs off-shore; the political class has been lobotomized and emasculated by the fat-cat cheque-writers in the financial services sector and the waves of disempowerment, based on a premise of the “sanctity” of “individual freedom” and “personal liberty” at the expense of any notion of a public good. And all of this has proceeded right under our eyes, and right outside our ears, and in the presence of an increasingly melodramatic reality-television-entertainment drama of distraction.

Is it at least in part because of a fundamental cornerstone of the inherited economic structure of imposed “standards” and rules and regulations that render each and every person a submissive agent serving some hollow goals like GDP, GNP, zero unemployment, and Consumer Price Index, in economies some 75% dependent on consumer consumption?

Have we, and our parents slept through a deliberate erosion of the notion of “society” of “community” even to the point at which anything even remotely reflective of a “social safety net” is considered “the Nanny state” or worse, socialism and even communism?

And is our sedated compliance partially at least dependent on our addiction to burrowing, like beavers, in some activity like the part-time job, the university graduation, the office desk and the bulging portfolio of blue-chip investments? Have we, men and women alike, so abandoned ourselves, our basic needs for relationships, for connections, for hanging-out without the driving force of “networking” and “resume-padding” and evolving our identity? Is our identity now so siamesed to our entrepreneurship-vocation that we no longer even know who we are as individual persons? Is our identity now enmeshed, whether consciously or unconsciously, with our professional job status, our income, our address, our unique “brand”…just another of the many signs of “arriving” and succeeding as determined by the opinion of others?
Let me reference a quote that seems pertinent and appropriate to the page:

If experience be consulted, it will be found there is no action, however abominable, that has not received the applause of some people. Parricide—the sacrifice of children—robbery,-usurpation, cruelty-intolerance-prostitution, have all int heir turn been licensed actions, and have been deemed laudable and meritorious deeds with some nations of the earth. (Baron d’Holbach)

Have we all been, and do we continue to be seduced by the conventional, cultural, politically correct and corporately sanctified mass mind-set?



*A railway executive in Britain, Smiles wrote: National progress is the sum of individual industry, energy and uprightness as national decay is of individual idleness, selfishness and vice.” (Smiles, Self-help, p. 125, quoted in Tiger, op, cit., p. 136)

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