2018-10-31

Changes

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

I’ve been bringing myself up to date with the way the world has been changing these past few and more decades, beginning with the 1960s. I am constantly reminded of two quotes, one I heard by Sting quite a few years ago, and another more recently from my mother.

Sting was talking about his boyhood and how everyone listened to the same radio programs, the range of entertainment and recreation and things were more limited but that meant you shared a lot more with everyone in society. He said he thought it was better then. I asked myself if that was just a typical opinion of anyone looking back and thinking things were better in the old days, but I did have to wonder if he was also right.

My aged mother was reflecting on the years of the Second World War and those following, and saying how she remembered society as being less divided than it is today. Obviously, I thought, during total war a nation is going to pull together. And certainly there were serious conflicts afterwards as different sections found their new places with respect to each other afterwards. But I also remember learning at school or soon afterwards how Australia was one of the most egalitarian countries in the world with one of the narrowest gaps between rich and poor. And in the late 60s and 70s there was certainly more hope despite our youthful naivety about what it would take to bring about real change. Perhaps since then we have lost that naivety and come to understand how power works and cannot be so easily changed.

But surely it is true that there is less optimism and less social cohesion today in Australia, and I can only imagine as an outsider from what I hear in the news about America what the divisions are like in the U.S.

One of the truisms Karl Marx pointed out (oh how I must be showing my ancient past to be citing Marx today!) was how the capitalist system produced workers who were alienated from their jobs. Today I notice that businesses and institutions seem to try to make up for that loss by artificially creating communities and personal meaning through human relations programs to offer workers some sort of personal group identity and meaning in their work places. But the alienation, I think, has meanwhile been extended beyond the workplace to the consumer society as a whole. Targeted products, especially via the new technologies, have enabled services and products tailored for ever more fragmented groups.

We’ve come a long way from the days when I could go to school and talk about the latest black and white Batman short that was showing at the local cinema and expect others to know what I was talking about.

I don’t think such changes are the imagined product of wishful nostalgia, either.

 

4 Comments

  • db
    2018-11-01 01:11:33 UTC - 01:11 | Permalink

    [T]he alienation, I think, has meanwhile been extended beyond the workplace to the consumer society as a whole. Targeted products, especially via the new technologies, have enabled services and products tailored for ever more fragmented groups.

    • Social technology has promoted cultural/group/political Ghettoization, i.e. to be “in the bubble”.

    We’ve come a long way from the days when I could go to school and talk about the latest black and white Batman short that was showing at the local cinema and expect others to know what I was talking about.

    [Per the only extant members of the subtribe Hominina—Homo sapiens] Evolution does not necessarily reward intelligence. With no natural predators to thin the herd, it began to simply reward those who reproduced the most, and left the intelligent to become an endangered species. —(Judge, Mike, et al. Idiocracy. Frankfurt: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, 2007.)

  • JBeers
    2018-11-01 12:56:04 UTC - 12:56 | Permalink

    The works of Marx and Engels are by no means useless today. Certainly much is to be discarded, even at times with disgust. However there is much to be looted. In fact, one of the great things about M & E at their best they attacked all ideology for being ideology (as opposed to theory that is based on ongoing interaction with evolving objective reality) even though they themselves were all too often ideological. (Sometimes their 19th century rivals the anarchists used their concepts better than they. Occasionally conservatives have put them to excellent use as well. More so those who try not to be enchained by any fixed category.)

    Unfortunately, as is the case with so much, the best of M&E has been suppressed, twisted, perverted, trivialized and so forth. The concept of alienation is a great example.

    The sense of the word ‘alienation’ as meaning feeling not happy with one’s environment, of being out of touch is important, but only peripheral to M&E’s meaning of alienation. The term has at its center how things are produced.

    What M&E primarily meant by ‘alienation’ is that when workers create something it becomes alien to them, foreign to them, out of their control. It is controlled by their employers or some other buyer. The something can be a cereal box, the artwork that the advertising agency tells them to create, the article they are supposed to write, or armaments they help create. It is instantly alien to them. So is the activity of producing it. They do not control it. They do not own it. It is not what they would generally freely choose to do. They do it in order to pay to live as they feel they need to live.

    More broadly, in creating alienated products they continually recreate a system where alienated products and alienated relationships rule. Although they certainly create goods that are useful for themselves, they create a system they do not control, one that works against them, and alien one, absolutely including the organization of appearances through ideology, propaganda, advertising–the general prevalent mixture of lying, distortion, and trivialization, smoke-and-mirrors–very much including propaganda about fake ‘communities’ that are more or less the opposite of ‘community’. If people happen to feel out of touch and out of control, well, yes. At least some of these feelings may derive from the formal Marxist concept of ‘alienation’ having to do with the relations of production.

    The astute will note that these concepts apply as readily to production in the 20th century regimes that called themselves ‘Marxist’ (also ‘democratic’, also ‘peoples’ republics’) as they do to the so-called ‘democratic’ regimes of the ‘West.’

    • Neil Godfrey
      2018-11-01 23:09:17 UTC - 23:09 | Permalink

      Appreciate your revisiting the detail of the argument. Thanks.

  • Malcolm Grant Hutton
    2018-11-01 22:37:48 UTC - 22:37 | Permalink

    I would basically agree that life was much better in the old days, even when we had bombs falling all around us, and a V2 rocket just a mile away. We somehow learned how to cope with that terror. On the other hand one could walk miles down main roads and have no fear of being hit by any traffic. You could leave windows and doors unlocked not even thinking that a burglar could appear on the scene. Everyone was definitely far more friendly and quite often you knew everyone else in the street. Total strangers would open up a conversation on train or bus.
    We had no need of a telephone as there were plenty of ‘phone boxes within easy reach, and everyone else would send a telegram if there was any need to be in touch.
    But it was much harder to buy that first home – despite the lies told today in the media. We managed in the end because we had no car to run, no TV, no washing machine, no phones – so none of those costs. Even so one had to start out with something small, or a flat, and then move on to a larger home when inflation added to what you had.
    In 1960 our neighbours managed to buy a home but had to sleep on a mattress on the floor and use sheets instead of curtains.
    Then there was the enormous interest rates – most of the time we had a mortgage it was never less than 10% and some had to pay up to 18% by the early 1980’s.
    People today just don’t know how good they have it with modern amenities and next to no mortgage interest.
    We never went hungry during the War – there was always Suet Pudding, and everyone had an allotment to grow vegies. In the north we often had rabbit as Conies were easily caught in traps on the Moors.
    Today I feel that there is so much more to worry about – e.g. computer crashing etc.
    If only I could find a Duckett’s Passage (“Goodnight Sweetheart”) and get back for a while.

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