I was once described as a "beautiful, intelligent iguana".
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Perhaps, Badiou’s matrix of four basic responses to an Event (the faithful subject; the reactive subject; the obscure subject; resurrection) should be complicated a little bit, so that there are six responses:
1. The responses to the Freud-Event were: (1) fidelity (Lacan); (2) reactive normalization, re-integration into the predominant field (ego-psychology, ‘dynamic psychotherapy’); (3) outright denial (cognitivism); (4) obscurantist mystification in a pseudo-Event (Jung); (5) total enforcing (Reich, Freudo-Marxism); (6) resurrection of the ‘eternal’ Freud’s message in ‘returns to Freud.’
2. The responses to a love-Event are: (1) fidelity; (2) normalization, re-integration (marriage); (3) outright rejection of the evental status (libertinage, the transformation of the Event into sexual adventure); (4) thorough rejection of sexual love (abstinence); (5) obscurantist suicidal mortal passion a la Tristan; (6) resurrected love (re-encounter).
3. The responses to the Marxism-Event are: (1) fidelity (Communism, Leninism); (2) reactive re-integration (Social Democracy); (3) outright denial of the evental status (liberalism, Furet); (4) catastrophic total counter-attack in the guise of a pseudo-Event (Fascism); (5) total enforcing of the Event, which ends up in an ‘obscure disaster’ (Stalinism, Khmer Rouge); (6) renewal of Marxism (Lenin, Mao…).
Slavoj Zizek, “On Alain Badiou and Logiques du mondes”
(this is a really great essay BTW, highly recommended — available here)
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Seriously though: I don’t get the motivation behind that #Marxism thing. Like, most of the guys that I follow on here that are self-labeled Marxists tend to have some sort of queer-bent, and would probably be totally okay with all that?
I mean, some of the people I follow are sex-negative and anti-porn, so maybe they’d have a problem with it. But, like, that’s more directed towards problems with playing into women in porn and playing into heteronormative male fantasies. Though, maybe they’re against gay porn too?
(Actually, that’s a decent question: for my followers that are anti-porn, does that extend to “gay porn”? I don’t see why it wouldn’t, but I’m just curious.)
I’m mostly just offended that whoever’s doing that thinks that we’d be offended by such a thing. Or that gay sex is somehow offensive generally.
I just….don’t get it.
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Has anyone else noticed that the #Marxism tag is just riddled with gay porn? Like…pages of it?
I’m just letting y’all know just in case that’s your thing: that way you can get your radical politics and gay porn all in one place. It’s actually rather convenient, I’d imagine, for a lot of people.
Morning Star is a California company that is responsible for processing 40% of California’s tomato crop. They also have no management. (Via Reason.tv):
Morning Star has many of the usual positions that one would expect at an ordinary company: there are floor workers, payroll personnel, folks that handle the mail and outside communications, and so on. The difference is that, from a bird’s eye view, no single person at Morning Star is anybody else’s boss. The entire operation appears to thrive on the power of collective expectations, and by giving workers a direct stake in the success of the company. Workers at Morning Star make their own decisions about how to perform their job, what tools they need to keep the machines running, and how to structure their work day to keep production running smoothly. As one employee put it, there is no bureaucracy that he has to fight through if he needs something for his lab. He just goes out and purchases it.
To some, this may seem like a frightfully inefficient way to run a business. If employees can make instantaneous discretionary purchases of lab equipment on the company dime, then where is the cost control? Such a system seems doomed to failure without a hierarchy of some sort to check potentially unwise exercises of indiscretion.
The answer is that these checks are built into the system of collective expectations. As another Morning Star employee put it, Morning Star’s business model presumes that employees who are closest to a particular business process are the most qualified to make decisions about how to keep that process running efficiently. Thus, one would expect an unwise purchase to be met with scrutiny by one’s peers on the factory floor. Morning Star’s firm model thrives by ensuring that one individual is never and uncontested decision-maker solely responsible for decisions related to a business process at the company. Every worker has a stake in the outcome of everybody else’s labor. The threat of discipline from management is unnecessary to achieve desired outcomes.
Morning Star is not the first company to adopt this business model. Valve Corp., a wildly successful Video Game company that currently dominates the Video Game industry through it’s Steam platform, also has no formal management. Gore Inc., the makers of Gore-Tex, are an 8,500 strong company that has no company organization chart. Though Gore does retain a few corporate officer titles for various purposes within the company, those officials have little direct power over other employees in the corporation. Those same officers are also not unilaterally chosen by the Board of Directors, but rather, in a more democratic fashion:
In Gore’s self-regulating system, all the normal management rules are reversed. In this back-to-front world, leaders aren’t appointed: they emerge when they accumulate enough followers to qualify as such. So when the previous group CEO retired three years ago, there was no shortlist of preferred candidates. Alongside board discussions, a wide range of associates were invited to nominate to the post someone they would be willing to follow. ‘We weren’t given a list of names – we were free to choose anyone in the company,’ Kelly says. ‘To my surprise, it was me.’
Other firms have shown that “non-management management” approach is feasible. At IDEO Corp., a Palo Alto engineering company responsible for such ubiquitous inventions as squeezable toothpaste tubes, or the mouse you are using to point & click things on your computers, there are no bosses, and no management structure. Sun Hydraulics is a $170 million dollar manufacturing firm with no job titles, no organization chart, and even lacks job performance criteria for its employees. There is a Plant Manager, but their job is not to supervise employees: it’s to water the company’s plants.
How are so many companies, in areas as diverse as tomato farming, hydraulics production, and video game production, running successful businesses without traditional management? In a society built on Capitalism, the common wisdom is that productive firms require managers with coercive authority to motivate people to do their jobs. Most ordinary people are shocked when they learn that there are companies who stay profitable with no bosses. How can this be an efficient way to run a company?
As it turns out, there’s a lot of evidence that top-down management is an inefficient form of firm organization. Gary Hamel, writing for the Harvard Business Review, noted several reasons to abandon traditional management hierarchies, one of which is the fact that managers add both personnel costs and unnecessary complexity to a firm:
A small organization may have one manager and 10 employees; one with 100,000 employees and the same 1:10 span of control will have 11,111 managers. That’s because an additional 1,111 managers will be needed to manage the managers. In addition, there will be hundreds of employees in management-related functions, such as finance, human resources, and planning. Their job is to keep the organization from collapsing under the weight of its own complexity. Assuming that each manager earns three times the average salary of a first-level employee, direct management costs would account for 33% of the payroll.
Top-down management also centralizes risk-taking in the hands of fewer decision-makers, which increases the likelihood of a disastrous event:
… As decisions get bigger, the ranks of those able to challenge the decision maker get smaller. Hubris, myopia, and naïveté can lead to bad judgment at any level, but the danger is greatest when the decision maker’s power is, for all purposes, uncontestable. Give someone monarchlike authority, and sooner or later there will be a royal screwup. A related problem is that the most powerful managers are the ones furthest from frontline realities. All too often, decisions made on an Olympian peak prove to be unworkable on the ground.
The personal whims of managers can also kill or disincentivize ideas that are good for the company, especially when ideas have to be filtered through multiple levels of management:
…[A] multitiered management structure means more approval layers and slower responses. In their eagerness to exercise authority, managers often impede, rather than expedite, decision making. Bias is another sort of tax. In a hierarchy the power to kill or modify a new idea is often vested in a single person, whose parochial interests may skew decisions.
Then there’s “the cost of tyranny:”
The problem isn’t the occasional control freak; it’s the hierarchical structure that systematically disempowers lower-level employees. For example, as a consumer you have the freedom to spend $20,000 or more on a new car, but as an employee you probably don’t have the authority to requisition a $500 office chair. Narrow an individual’s scope of authority, and you shrink the incentive to dream, imagine, and contribute.
The success of these business models demonstrate one of the fundamental criticisms of traditional Capitalist modes of production that Marx attempted to illustrate when he was writing Das Kapital. While Marx was wrong (in my opinion) about quite a few things, the success of the companies above demonstrates that Marx was correct to point out that divorcing employees from management decisions related to their own labor is an inherently inefficient means of production. Divorcing employees from the product of their labor separates them from one of the primary motivating forces to perform that labor. This process of alienation itself is what creates the necessity for “bosses”—employees whose primary purpose is to oversee & discipline other employees in their assigned tasks.
Thus, what we really see in Marx’s Theory of Labor Alienation was, inter alia, an argument about firm management: the need for “bosses” in the workplace only arises when employees are completely divorced from the means of production. When workers have a direct stake in the final product of their labor, they no longer need the threat of coercion from superiors to do their job. An employee’s direct interest in the outcome, combined with the power of collective expectations of their peers in the workplace, replaces the threat of, and need for, discipline from above.
With all this being said: I am not attempting to argue here that the success of non-managed firms proves that stateless socialism is viable, or validates Marxism writ large. Indeed, I’m sure that the folks at Reason have a much different view on Morning Star’s success than I do—and moreover, I remain, as I have always been, a fan of mixed economies.
What I think is clear, however, is that Marxist theorists are right to point out that there is nothing inherently “natural” or “necessary” about the way the workplace is organized in most Western societies today. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that top-down hierarchies in the workplace are neither necessary for profitability, nor an extension of natural human activities. Indeed, if Gary Hamel’s observations about the inefficiency of management are true, we appear to have been doing it wrong for quite some time. Though perhaps we could have come to the same conclusion more easily by just reading Dilbert comics:
I bet the reason you never hear about these sorts of companies is that they essentially disprove the entire myth of the ‘job creator’
Oh, holy fuck, this is so awesome.
Recently, a friend of mine became the object of the Internet’s daily Two Minutes’ Hate. An artist who’s been unemployed and down on his luck, he had the misfortune of appearing in a story which Salon.com decided to call “A Hipster on Food Stamps.” The article followed some college-educated but poor and underemployed people trying to eat tasty, nutritious meals while relying on food stamps. To me, it was a poignant commentary on both the failure of American capitalism and the deep pathologies of our food system.
But what the article seemed to call forth in its readers was unending bile and rage directed at people deemed insufficiently deserving of a public benefit. The title certainly didn’t help. Calling someone a “hipster” is a license to spew all kinds of demented hate. Since the term carries connotations of slackers and trust funds, the image of “hipsters on food stamps” is designed to provoke the conclusion that someone is lazily taking advantage of the system. Certainly that was how things played at the blog of the libertarian Reasonmagazine, which mocked the notion that someone might both deserve economic assistance and make art and wear odd clothes.
One wouldn’t expect any better from libertarians, who have built an entire ideology around the world-view of 12-year-old boys. But they aren’t the only people who react to stories like this with rage or contempt rather than empathy. Consider the following comment, left under my friend’s response to the article about him:
I’m sorry but you are a selfish, whiny leach. I can say this because I a middle-aged woman and have been trying to find work for two years without success though I have a masters degree in a fairly desirable field. I have dwindling savings and two kids. Because I stayed home with them for a few years I don’t qualify for unemployment and that has also damaged my marketability in the job world. Despite all of this I have never resorted to public assistance and will not. In addition, I have a back problem that surgery did not correct so I am in physical pain 24 hrs a day. Still I have taken temp jobs and we have cut back in many ways. I am proud of my fortitude and resourcefulness, because we will make it through this time and my kids will learn valuable lessons from me about self-reliance.
Here we have a person who has been marginally employed for two years and suffers physical pain 24 hours a day—and rather than demanding something better for herself, she demands that other people suffer more!
Vicious and unhinged discourse is widespread on the Internet, but this example is worth noting because the sentiment it expresses is by no means unique. This attitude—a petty and mean-spirited resentment—is depressingly common even among the working class. It sometimes seems to amount to no more than the sentiment that justice consists in everyone else being at least as miserable as you are. At one level, it’s an attitude that reflects diminished expectations, and can be partly blamed on the weakness of the Left and the defeat of its historical project: when you don’t believe any positive social change is possible, there’s little left to fall back on but bitterness and resentment.
This resentment is also at the heart of a lot of hating on “hipsters.” People see others whom they perceive to have lives that are easier, cooler or more fun than theirs, and instead of questioning the society that gave them their lot, they demand conformity and misery out of others. But why? The false (but not without a grain of truth!) intimation that hipsters are all white kids who are subsidized by their rich parents legitimizes this position, but even if it were accurate it wouldn’t make the attitude of contempt any more sensible. For even if creative and enjoyable lives are only accessible to the privileged, that’s not a damning fact about them so much as it is an indictment of a society that has so much wealth and yet only allows a select few to take advantage of it, while others are forced to waste their lives chained to their useless jobs and bloated mortgages.
The rage directed at the figure of “a hipster on food stamps” is only intelligible in terms of the rotted ideological foundation that supports it: an ideology that simultaneously glorifies the suffering of the exploited and vilifies those among the dispossessed who are deemed to be insufficiently hard-working or self-reliant. It treats some activities (making art) as worthless and parasitic, and others (working temp jobs) as totems of “resourcefulness” and “self-reliance,” without any apparent justification. This is what we have learned to call the work ethic; but the vociferousness with which it is expressed masks its increasing hollowness. For just who counts as a hard worker, or a worker at all?
The work ethic is a foundational element of modern capitalism: it assures the overall legitimacy of the system, and within the individual workplace it motivates workers to be both economically productive and politically quiescent. But the love of work does not come easily to the proletariat, and its construction over centuries was a monumental achievement for the capitalist class. After years of struggle, discipline was imposed on pre-capitalist people who rejected regimented “clock time” and were prone to take a holiday on “Saint Monday’s day” whenever they had been too drunk the Sunday before. In America, a Protestant ethic equating work, salvation, and moral virtue arose in an economy full of artisans and small farmers, and was maintained only with great difficulty through the transition to more grueling and alienated forms of industrial labor. In the 20th century, perpetual war and labor’s Fordist compromise with capital provided a moral and material justification for the work ethic: during wartime (hot or cold), work could be equated with the patriotic struggle for national preservation, while the post-war golden age rested on an understanding that if workers submitted to capitalist work discipline, they would be rewarded with a share in the resulting productivity increases in the form of rising wages.
Today, the work ethic still serves as a guiding value from one end of the political spectrum to the other. The Right, including its latest “Tea Party” iteration, presents itself as the defender of the hard working many against the slothful and indolent. To take just one recent example, a Republican candidate for Governor of South Carolina has proposed mandatory drug testing for recipients of unemployment insurance, echoing an early proposal from Utah Senator Orrin Hatch. On the Left, the rhetoric of “working people” and “working families” is ubiquitous; indeed, in the wake of Clinton’s assaults on the welfare state, it seems that the poor can only justify their existence and their access to benefits and transfers if they can somehow be portrayed as “working.” So New York State’s social democratic quasi-third party calls itself the “Working Families Party,” and the union-led One Nation march in Washington promotes the slogan “Putting America Back to Work”.
Such appeals to the moral superiority of work and workers are often rooted inproducerism: the notion that the fruits of society’s wealth and labor should return to those who directly perform productive labor. Producerism is hostile both to parasitic elites at the top of society and to the allegedly unproductive indigents at the bottom, hence its relationship to the political Left and Right is ambiguous. But in post-industrial capitalist society, “work” has come to be disconnected from any conception of directly producing something or contributing work with any specific content. Work is increasingly defined formally: as whatever people do in return for wages. With this elision, the material foundation of the work ethic is gradually undermined, and today the absurdity of the work ideology becomes readily apparent. For while it has never been the case that labor was rewarded in proportion to its contribution, it is now quite obvious that wage work is not identical to productive activity, and that the rewards to labor have lost any connection to the social value or desirability of the work performed.
Indeed, it sometimes seems that the distribution of wages is, to a first approximation, the exact inverse of the social utility of work. Thus the workers closest to our most fundamental needs—food and shelter—are non-unionized residential construction workers and migrant fruit pickers, lucky to even earn the minimum wage. At the same time, bankers are given millions for the invention and trade of sophisticated credit derivatives, even though most of their work is equivalent to—and as we’ve now discovered, quite a bit more destructive than—betting on the outcome of the Super Bowl. This perverse reversal of values has a fractal quality, as well, so that even within individual occupations the same inverse relationship between wages and social value seems to hold. Plastic surgeons have easier jobs and vastly greater earnings than pediatricians, and being a celebrity pet groomer is more lucrative than working in an animal shelter.
Whether his art is any good or not, my artist friend on food stamps contributes more to society than the traders at Lehman brothers, by simply not wrecking the global financial system. He may well have contributed more than our anonymous commenter in her temp jobs, if they were anything like some of the temp assignments I’ve had: entering rejected applications for health insurance into the insurance company’s computer, for example, a tiny step in an inhumane decision made by an industry that should not even exist. Note, moreover, that the commenter’s defense of her worth was based on her temp jobs and refusal of public assistance, and not on one of the few activities that is widely agreed to be valuable and necessary human labor–raising children.
In this context, it seems impossible to speak of the value of hard work without questioning both the equation of useful work with wage labor, and of high wages with high social value. But the ideology of the work ethic is nonetheless powerful, because it reassures people that their lives are meaningful and valuable, so long as they participate in waged work. And ideologies can stumble along in zombie form for a remarkably long time, even when the historical conditions that gave rise to them have completely disappeared. The work ethic, in all its morbid forms, may have already degenerated from tragedy to farce, but that alone will not be enough to abolish it. We need an alternative to erect in its place.
The threads of a different ethic are all around us, if we begin to think of all the subtle ways in which our activities contribute to social wealth outside of paid labor. Feminists were the pioneers, showing how all of capitalism, and all of human history, was predicated on a vast and invisible structure of reproductive labor performed mostly by women, mostly not for wages. The rise of new ideologies of communal production, like Open Source and Creative Commons, have revealed how much is possible without the wage incentive. Even the great new robber barons of the digital age, Google and Facebook, are instructive. Their value rests, on the most basic level, on the work of millions of users who provide content and information for free.
If it is increasingly impossible to disentangle the productive and unproductive parts of human activity, then we can reconstruct the old producerist dogma in a new way: everyone deserves to be provided with the means to live a decent life, because we are all already contributing to the production and reproduction of society itself. The kind of social policy that follows from this position would be very different from the narrow, targeted, programs like Food Stamps, whose very narrowness make it easy to demonize one group in society as parasitic—whether the demonized group is welfare queens in the 90s or hipsters on food stamps today. Rather than the “deserving” or “working” poor, with its connotations of moral judgment and authoritarian social control, it is time to begin speaking the language of economic and social rights. For instance, the right to a Universal Basic Income, a means of living at a basic level that would be provided to everyone, no questions asked. Against the invidious politics of the work ethic, it’s time to argue that some things should be granted to everyone, simply by virtue of their humanity. Even hipsters.
Even though this is super long, it’s a really good read/really important. The bolded part really resonated with me, but everything here is worthwhile.
Every time I do economics homework I just remember that Marx figured out in the 1800s that all of my work is just a way to oppress the proletariat.
Every time I find an equilibrium, I find a way for the bourgeoisie to appropriate surplus value from labor.
ummmm it’s a little more complicated than that. basically marx was saying that the point of what he calls “bourgeoise economics” is deriving laws about how capitalism works and conflating them with descriptive statements of Fundamental Laws of Reality and How The World Actually Works instead of just how the world works under capitalism
I sometimes feel like libertarians-and-stoya is just a fantastic troll, created to turn logicallypositive slowly away from Libertarianism.
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On the topic of animation, as on so many other topics, I disagree with Slavoj Zizek (2009), who, in an article on the link between capitalism and new forms of authoritarianism, offers up the animated film Kung Fu Panda (2008) as an example of the kind of ideological sleight of hand that he sees as characteristic of both representative democracy and films for children. For Zizek, the fat and ungainly panda who accidentally becomes a kung fu master is a figure that evokes George W. Bush or Silvio Berlusconi: by rising to the status of world champion without either talent or training, he masquerades as the little man who tries hard and succeeds, when in fact he is still a big man who is lazy but succeeds anyway because the system is tipped in his favor. By embedding this narrative in a fluffy, cuddly panda bear film, Zizek implies, what looks like entertainment is actually propaganda. Zizek has managed to get a lot of mileage out of his reading of this film precisely because his ‘big’ critiques of economy and world politics seem so hilarious when personified by a text supposedly as inconsequential as Kung Fu Panda. I do not totally disagree with his analysis of an emergent form of authoritarian capitalism, but I strenuously object to his reading of Kung Fu Panda. Like so many animated films for children, Kung Fu Panda joins new forms of animation to new conceptions of the human-animal divide to offer a very different political landscape than the one we inhabit or at least the one Zizek imagines we inhabit.
Zizek also tackles the subject of failure in a book appropriately titled In Defense Of Lost Causes (2008), but rather than take failure apart, as I have tried to do in this book, as a category levied by the winners against the losers and as a set of standards that ensure that all future radical ventures will be measured as cost-ineffective, he situates failure as a stopping point on the way to success. As in his other books, he pillories postmodernism, queers, and feminism, ignores critical ethnic studies altogether, and uses popular culture with high theory not to unravel difficult arguments or to practice a nonelite pedagogy but only to keep insisting that we are all dupes of culture, misreaders of history, and brainwashed by contemporary politics. Zizek does not defend lost causes; he just keeps trying to resurrect a model of political insurgency that depends upon the wisdom, the intellectual virtuosity, and the radical insight of, well, people like him.
Judith Halberstam, The Queer Art Of Failure
She goes on to say that “Zizek uses popular culture and film in particular only to keep proving his Lacanian take on everything as good and true and to accuse others of being bamboozled by the shiny candy wrappers of Hollywood cinema,” which she contrasts to her own method of taking the same cinema as a site for “rethinking collectivities, transformation, identification, animality, and posthumanity.” That about sums it up I think.
[I had to go search this quote out once I saw you recommended hollovv go look at it at one point. Sorry to bring it up again.]
I’m sorry Pritch, but this is a horrible misreading of Zizek. It seems disingenuous to categorize someone who’s always revisiting that “try again, fail again, fail better” quote as “[situating] failure as a stopping point on the way to success”. And isn’t taking “failure apart…as a category levied by the winners against the losers and as a set of standards that ensure that all future radical ventures will be measured as cost-ineffective” exactly what he does when he problematizes the use of ‘totalitarian’ in ‘radical’ philosophy (via “Did Someone Say Totalitarianism?”). Like, that was the entire subject of a book he wrote.
And is no one paying attention to the fact that the pop-culture part of his works are the smallest, most insignificant part? He’s said before that if he can’t translate the work of some theorist or another into the ‘dumb’ level of pop culture references, he feels he probably doesn’t understand that person enough to use them. Why is it so wrong to try and revisualize the ideas of another author through the lens of pop culture? Seriously, it like as soon as he does that, everyone goes “this is just some cheap trick” and pays him no mind. It’s sad how bad of a misreading he CONSTANTLY gets. No, he’s not the end-all be all of theory as people pretend, but he’s worth some actual engagement.
And finally, it’s not like there’s this opposition in his work between “dupes of culture, misreaders of history, and brainwashed contemporary politics” and “him”. There’s the opposition between people who believe in an actually consistent, Kantian “thing-in-itself” prior to our perceptions of it, and the actual Hegelian move of realizing that our inability to access the in-itself is due to our own ontological inconsistency that gets placed upon other objects. Apperception being ontologically prior to perception, and the non-All of apperception being constitutive of subjectivity itself.
That’s the thing, if you don’t keep that ontological move in mind, Zizek’s works get read as really bad, shallow politicizing that just coasts along the gleaming surface of pop-culture.
Just, ugh, again, this is such a bad (common, unorignal, prepackaged) critique of Zizek. We really need better work being done on the guy before we actually dismiss him in any way.
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And there was one from his wife, Jenny, that said she would “lay down [her] head as a sacrifice to [her] naughty boy…”
I don’t know why, but I find that to be the funniest line in regards to Marx.
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