A Taylorism For All Seasons

lasch on narcissism part 1; gaddis on modernity, part […]

daysofbeingwild1

Christopher Lasch – The Culture of Narcissism, part 1/X, current essay being more of an overview. 

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Imagine a kind of masquerade.

It’s an acting contest at first, and everyone is assigned a mask. The guest is to playact the identity of the mask – so the person who gets a werewolf mask howls, the guest with a zombie mask groans, etc. The best actor wins. This being a party, assume that everyone is still vying for status and attention in the interim, but that may not be acting. People talk about all sorts of things at parties, even those with explicit contests. Most people won’t assume that the mask says anything about the person – it’s randomly assigned, after all. Those who do are missing the point. Both the judges and the guests will appraise character based on acting. The contest may not be equal, of course – there are differences in acting ability, perhaps some roles are easier or more prestigious than others – but these still relate to action.

Now imagine that the rules of the game change. There are no longer preassigned masks. Everyone is expected to provide their own. Perhaps this was due to concerns over fairness (easier/harder masks or prestige of role), perhaps there was arson at the mask-factory. It doesn’t matter – the contest remains but the rules change. There’s no longer one contest, but two: making a mask, and acting like it, and all of a sudden it starts making sense to focus on the mask. Pro-social behavior is both performance and making a good mask, but now the mask is more important. For one reason, if roles are easier/harder and this correlates with prestige (it will), people might begin to bring the most prestigious mask that they can still act as, that isn’t beyond their ability. For another, since you made the mask, it shows certain inner aspects previously hidden (desires, self-awareness, whatever). Still: there are limits, and you have to be able to behave in a certain way. You can’t simply gain status by making the most prestigious mask possible – the judges will make you fall on your ass. The opposite is also dangerous, albeit socially: Don’t say “I was too busy to put in the effort”, as though this is a successful social maneuver. This shows us that you’re lazy, or poor, or [thing]. For most people, social opinion is important for their own identity, and of course you’d start to identify with the mask. It increasingly signifies your role. Still: Nothing changes about the original dynamic. Some people are better actors and others are worse actors; some roles are harder (read: more prestigious) and others are easier. Some people still want to win the contest, but “winning the contest” is now a mix of acting talent, pro-social behavior, and proper self-estimation. This may still be unequal, but it’s less random.

Final transformation: hide the contest. It still takes place (somewhere), but is no longer the explicit public aim. Power-dynamics remain among the party-goers and these are more prominent than before. People still gossip at parties, winners and loser still emerge, the new game increasingly revolves around the mask. It signifies how you think of yourself, how you think of others, etc. There’s technically something important about playing the role behind it, but with a hidden contest all social prestige comes from the mask itself. Accordingly, the mask becomes a token of everything you are, even if everyone knows it’s just a mask. Suddenly, the game isn’t fun anymore. Continue reading “A Taylorism For All Seasons”

Scraps 1: Collapse/Jane Austen/Spengler/Cowen

Scraps and puzzles. Riddle: everything below is talking about the same thing. How?

1. 1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed

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~1250 BC is the standard archaeological date for the Biblical Exodus, if in fact an exodus occurred. Most material evidence we would expect of such an event is lacking.

To get to the collapse in 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization CollapsedEric Cline has to give an overview of the major Bronze Age civilizations. He casually mentions the following detail: While we don’t know if Exodus as real big Exodus happened, we do know that there was extensive Semitic-Egyptian interaction. There’s evidence of a Semite vizier to the pharaoh, and it’s unlikely that you’d get such a figure without some sort of storied history. Aper-El, the vizier, held his post in the 14th century during the reigns of Amenhotep III and Akhentaten. Since I’m not particularly  pious, I feel free to pick and choose my biblical chronology as it suits me. That places him at roughly four generations before the proposed exodus, the traditional period between Joseph and Exodus (ignoring that the Bible says each of those is about 100 years). There’s more:

Akhenaten was, infamously, the pharaoh who tried to make Egypt a monotheistic kingdom. During his reign, Akhenaten abolished worship of all gods except for Aten. No matter how one thinks of Aten, the image of a single Semite working as vizier to a Pharaoh who then, for reasons no one can quite figure out, becomes a hardline monotheist, is too fecund of an idea to ignore. One can imagine a particularly rambunctious bilblical literalist seizing on this factoid to weave a grand tapestry – Joseph in the palace of Akhenaten, preaching the word of proto-God, and the mad pharaoh rearranging his kingdom based on Joseph’s powers.

I’m not a biblical literalist and I want to.

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Also in 1177, the theory that the destruction of Troy took place much earlier than anticipated, and possibly twice. That… sort of goes a long way towards explaining why you have military descriptions from totally different time periods just floating around the Iliad. At the same time, if they preserved that, why wouldn’t they preserve at least some vague notion of the Hittites having hired them?

Probably not useful as literary theory. Possibly interesting as actual history. Continue reading “Scraps 1: Collapse/Jane Austen/Spengler/Cowen”

Foucault, Scoundrel

(a joke continued from here, this is not a full post)

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CXXIV. [... ] For we are founding a real model of the world in the understanding, such as it is found to be, not such as man’s reason has distorted. Now this cannot be done without dissecting and anatomizing the world most diligently; but we declare it necessary to destroy completely the vain, little and, as it were, apish imitations of the world, which have been formed in various systems of philosophy by men’s fancies. Let men learn (as we have said above) the difference that exists between the idols of the human mind and the ideas of the divine mind. The former are mere arbitrary abstractions; the latter the true marks of the Creator on his creatures, as they are imprinted on, and defined in matter, by true and exquisite touches. Truth, therefore, and utility, are here perfectly identical, and the effects are of more value as pledges of truth than from the benefit they confer on men.

Novum Organum, Francis Bacon

The important point here, I believe, is that truth isn’t outside power, or deprived of power[…] (contrary to a myth whose history and functions would repay further study, it isn’t the reward of free spirits,the child of prolonged solitudes, or the privilege of those who have been able to liberate themselves). Truth is of the world: it is produced by virtue of multiple constraints. And it induces the regular effects of power. Each society has its regime of truth, its ‘general politics’ of truth; that is, the types of discourse it harbours and causes to function as true

The Political Function of the Intellectual, Michel Foucault

How gauche.

Truth and Lies in a HyperNormal Sense

hypernormalization

JEREMIAD ON TRUTH

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“Wake up sheeple!” is déclassé but you still want to say it. Hence, HyperNormalisation.

That’s not a comment on the film, it’s a comment on the use of it. Normally it’s silly to trade in audience reactions as though that defined the art; guilt by association and Hitler ate Boca Burgers, etc. But HyperNormalisation takes “media and its effects on the individual” as a primary theme, so it’s meta by design. That the audience has taken this (one) theme as the primary one, and then spread that through media is meta^3, ~6 Becketts on the Pirandello Scale. It also opens up the entire problem of modernity and truth.

Here’s a review of the film: HyperNormalisation is good. Adam Curtis is probably the best working documentarian. Neat. Moving on.

Let’s talk about truth.

Continue reading “Truth and Lies in a HyperNormal Sense”

Four Questions

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A KIND OF INTRODUCTION

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There are only four questions that this blog will address. They aren’t the only questions, but they’re my questions for now.

I don’t have answers for them. I also don’t have the question part of the question. Call them problems, then. Lacking formulation, they are:

Mathematics
Comedy
The 1960s
Yes/No

I understand if this seems strange.

Continue reading “Four Questions”