The American Bear


The degradation which most workers experience on the job is the sum of assorted indignities which can be denominated as ‘discipline.’ Foucault has complexified this phenomenon but it is simple enough. Discipline consists of the totality of totalitarian controls at the workplace — surveillance, rotework, imposed work tempos, production quotas, punching -in and -out, etc. Discipline is what the factory and the office and the store share with the prison and the school and the mental hospital. It is something historically original and horrible. It was beyond the capacities of such demonic dictators of yore as Nero and Genghis Khan and Ivan the Terrible. For all their bad intentions they just didn’t have the machinery to control their subjects as thoroughly as modern despots do. Discipline is the distinctively diabolical modern mode of control, it is an innovative intrusion which must be interdicted at the earliest opportunity. Bob Black, The Abolition of Work (via anarchist—anthropology)

(Source: , via patternsofbehavior)

Breaking the Chains of Debt Peonage | Chris Hedges

[…] If the federal minimum wage from 1968 were adjusted for inflation it would be $10.50. Instead, although costs and prices have risen sharply, the federal minimum wage remains stuck at $7.25 an hour. It is the lowest of the major industrial countries. Meanwhile, Mike Duke, the CEO of Walmart, makes $11,000 an hour. And he is not alone. These corporate chiefs make this much money because they have been able to keep in place a system by which workers are effectively disempowered, forced to work for substandard wages and denied the possibility through unions or the formal electoral systems of power to defend workers’ rights. This is why corporations lavish these CEOs with obscene salaries. These CEOs are the masters of plantations. And the moment workers rise up and demand justice is the moment the staggering inequality of wealth begins to be reversed.

Being a member of the working poor, as Barbara Ehrenreich chronicles in her important book “Nickel and Dimed,” is “a state of emergency.” It is “acute distress.” It is a daily and weekly lurching from crisis to crisis. The stress, the suffering, the humiliation and the job insecurity means that workers are reduced to doing little more than eating, sleeping—never enough—and working. And, most importantly, they are kept in a constant state of fear.

[…] The former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, testifying before Congress, was quite open about the role of debt peonage in keeping workers passive. Greenspan pointed out that since 1980 labor productivity has increased by about 83 percent. Yet real wages have stagnated. Greenspan said this was because workers were too burdened with mortgage debts, college loans, auto payments and credit-card debt to risk losing a job. Household debt in the United States is around $13 trillion. This is only $2 trillion less than the country’s total yearly economic output. Greenspan was right. Miss a payment on your credit card and your interest rates jumps to 30 percent. Fail to pay your mortgage and you lose your home. Miss your health insurance payments, which have been spiraling upwards, and if you are seriously ill you go into bankruptcy, as 1 million Americans who get sick do every year. Trash your credit rating and your fragile financial edifice, built on managing debt, collapses. Since most Americans feel, on some level, as Hudson points out, that they are a step or two away from being homeless, they are deeply averse to challenging corporate power. It is not worth the risk. And the corporate state knows it. [++]

Violence is Not Power: Meditations on Obama’s Second Term | Falguni Sheth

"… the most effective technology of violence under a Democratic Presidency is the denial of facts. It is the willful amnesia that one of ‘their own,’—a liberal, a community activist, a constitutional law professor, a person of color (and his racially diverse Administration), a cosmopolitan—has taken the lead in violating the sanctity of human beings: through death, destruction of foreign lands, punishing journalists, torturing whistleblowers, kidnapping young men, and killing children. All the while, using secrecy, disposition matrices, surveillance—and–immunity laws—to breed the fear of God into us if we dare dissent."

Pervasive violence is the ever-louder siren of the U.S. state’s impotence. It is the beacon of this nation’s inability to garner respect by adhering to Constitutional principles. At the risk of being obvious, I have in mind principles such as the freedom to dissent; to challenge the state, to be free of undue invasions of privacy; to have a trial framed by charges, evidence, and clear, fair procedures. These are the principles which would—could–challenge the US’s increasing quest for violence as the means of political control at home and abroad. This quest, paradoxically, revitalizes loyalty among its people even as it drains the existential serenity of those elsewhere in the world.

By violence, I include overt violence, such as the kidnapping and rendition of black and brown men to the U.S; the drones directed towards South Asia, East Africa, and the Philippines; the detention and incarceration of men without charges, lawyers, fresh air. Solitary confinement.

By violence, I include psychic violence, such as warrantless wiretapping and surveillance of US citizens, residents and foreigners (sic); the silent spying on mosque-goers, protestors; the deportation of migrants by the millions; the separation of parents from their children by the hundreds of thousands; the fear of arrest by men and women who give money to charities and legal defense funds of groups deemed often ex post terrorist organizations; the deliberate withholding of justice for poor homeowners scammed by mortgage companies.

By violence, I include the existential violence enveloped in the fear that being Muslim, Black, or Latino marks you as a magnet for police attention. As a magnet for kidnapping. A magnet for arrest and endless incarceration without appeal. Among other kinds of invasions and violations.

Sociologist Max Weber talks about the state “as the rule of men over men based on the means of legitimate, that is, allegedly legitimately violence of the state.”

All modern states were founded on violence. On conquest and genocide and slavery. That history was elided, concealed through the abiding fiction of the social contract. The logic of the social contract was that men agreed to give up violence in order to abide by principles of respect and reciprocity. What we call rights and duties. A social contract. And even that Social Contract is founded on violence. It is a racial contract, one where the rights and duties of certain men were based on the eclipse of the rights of others: African men, women, and children. White women.

But social contracts—despite their origins– can be useful. Like the Constitution, they can make clear what our expectations are of each other. They can change, evolve, adjust—but their chief basis is the reciprocity of respect and freedom.

This is why there is something so earth-shatteringly irrevocable when a state based on a social contract, on a Constitution such as ours, declares a—continual–emergency by citing the threat of cultural, racial minorities and political minorities—of Muslims qua terrorists. Of Black men qua drug dealers. Of Latinos qua undocumented migrants. Of all who are political dissidents or whistleblowers who publicize the nefarious actions of elites.

What is it that propels people to allow their government to shift from representing them to overseeing them like an abusive parent? Since when do Americans seek comfort in a parent who oversees every move, micromanages every action, punishes every step that it construes as a misstep, who locks their child in the closet for howling in pain? Since when do we endorse political leaders who embrace beatings and torture as implements of security?

The ingenuity of the transition from political representation to state-incurred violence is that it is always—always—done with an array of equipment that makes that violence seem technical, impersonal, clinical. This is why it seems so natural to move from a society where we elect politicians to represent us with constraints–to one where we license them to expand their powers immeasurably while correspondingly narrowing ours.

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Workers have become so deeply indebted on their home mortgages, credit cards and other bank debt that they fear to strike or even to complain about working conditions. Losing work means missing payments on their monthly bills, enabling banks to jack up interest rates to levels that used to be deemed usurious. So debt peonage and unemployment loom on top of the wage slavery that was the main focus of class warfare a century ago. And to cap matters, credit-card bank lobbyists have rewritten the bankruptcy laws to curtail debtor rights, and the referees appointed to adjudicate disputes brought by debtors and consumers are subject to veto from the banks and businesses that are mainly responsible for inflicting injury. The aim of financial warfare is not merely to acquire land, natural resources and key infrastructure rents as in military warfare; it is to centralize creditor control over society. In contrast to the promise of democratic reform nurturing a middle class a century ago, we are witnessing a regression to a world of special privilege in which one must inherit wealth in order to avoid debt and job dependency.

Michael Hudson: America’s Deceptive 2012 Fiscal Cliff, Part II – The Financial War Against the Economy at Large

from naked capitalism by Yves Smith (via shiracoffee)

(Source: wateringgoodseeds)

If you look back at what happens since that time there have been a lot of measures introduced to impose discipline. Take something as simple as raising tuition fees – it’s much more true in the US than elsewhere, but in the US tuition is now sky high – in part it selects things on a class basis but more than that, it imposes a debt burden. So if you come out of college with a big debt you’re not going to be free to do what you want to do. You may have wanted to be a public interest lawyer but you’re going to have to go to a corporate law firm. That’s quite a serious fact and there are many other things like it. In fact the drug war was started mainly for that reason, the drug war is a disciplinary system, it’s a way of ensuring that people are kept under control and it was almost consciously designed that way… The idea of freedom is very frightening for those who have some degree of privilege and power and I think that shows up in the education system too. Noam Chomsky (via azspot)

(via becauseithinktoomuch)

Does TV Help Make Americans Passive and Accepting of Authority? | Bruce Levine

[…] In a truly democratic society, one is gaining knowledge directly through one’s own experience with the world, not through the filter of an authority or what Mander calls a mediated experience. TV-dominated people ultimately accept others’ mediated version of the world rather than discovering their own version based on their own experiences. Robert Keeshan, who played Captain Kangaroo in the long-running children’s program, was critical of television—including so-called “good television”— in a manner rarely heard from those who work in it: When you are spending time in front of the television, you are not doing other things. The young child of three or four years is in the stage of the greatest emotional development that human beings undergo. And we only develop when we experience things, real-life things: a conversation with Mother, touching Father, going places, doing things, relating to others. This kind of experience is critical to a young child, and when the child spends thirty-five hours per week in front of the TV set, it is impossible to have the full range of real-life experience that a young child must have. Even if we had an overabundance of good television programs, it wouldn’t solve the problem. Whatever the content of the program, television watching is an isolating experience. Most people are watching alone, but even when watching it with others, they are routinely glued to the TV rather than interacting with one another. TV keeps us indoors, and it keeps us from mixing it up in real life. People who are watching TV are isolated from other people, from the natural world—even from their own thoughts and senses. TV creates isolation, and because it also reduces our awareness of our own feelings, when we start to feel lonely we are tempted to watch more so as to dull the ache of isolation. Television is a “dream come true” for an authoritarian society. Those with the most money own most of what people see. Fear-based TV programming makes people more afraid and distrustful of one another, which is good for an authoritarian society depending on a “divide and conquer” strategy. Television isolates people so they are not joining together to govern themselves. Viewing television puts one in a brain state that makes it difficult to think critically, and it quiets and subdues a population. And spending one’s free time isolated and watching TV interferes with the connection to one’s own humanity, and thus makes it easier to accept an authority’s version of society and life. Whether it is in American penitentiaries or homes, TV is a staple of American pacification. When there’s no beer in our refrigerators, when our pot hookup has been busted, and when we can’t score a psychotropic drug prescription, there is always TV to take off the edge and chill us. [++]

The most obvious means of social control, in a discontented society, is a strong, semi-militarized police force. Most of the periphery has been managed by such means for centuries. This was obvious to elite planners in the West, was adopted as policy, and has now been largely implemented. Urban and suburban ghettos—where the adverse consequences of neoliberalism are currently most concentrated—have literally become occupied territories, where police beatings and unjustified shootings are commonplace. Escaping the Matrix

A lot of people forget that having debt you can’t pay back really sucks. Debt is not just a credit instrument, it is an instrument of political and economic control. It’s actually baked into our culture. The phrase ‘the man’, as in ‘fight the man’, referred originally to creditors. ‘The man’ in the 19th century stood for ‘furnishing man’, the merchant that sold 19th century sharecroppers and Southern farmers their supplies for the year, usually on credit. Farmers, often illiterate and certainly unable to understand the arrangements into which they were entering, were charged interest rates of 80-100 percent a year, with a lien places on their crops. When approaching a furnishing agent, who could grant them credit for seeds, equipment, even food itself, a farmer would meekly look down nervously as his debts were marked down in a notebook. At the end of a year, due to deflation and usury, farmers usually owed more than they started the year owing. Their land was often forfeit, and eventually most of them became tenant farmers.

Stoller: A Debtcropper Society

By Matt Stoller, a blogger-turned Congressional staffer. He was a policy advisor to Rep. Alan Grayson on financial policy issues. Cross posted from New Deal 2.0.

(via shiracoffee)

(Source: wateringgoodseeds)

If people do not actively combat a political regime which oppresses them, it may not be because they have meekly imbibed its governing values. It may be because they are too exhausted after a hard day’s work to have much energy left to engage in political activity, or because they are too fatalistic or apathetic to see the point of opposing the regime; or they may spend too much time worrying about their jobs and mortgages and income tax returns to give it much thought. Ruling classes have at their disposal a great may techniques of ‘negative’ social control, which are a good deal more prosaic and material than persuading their subjects that they belong to a master race or exhorting them to identify with the destiny of the nation.

Terry Eagleton, Ideology: an introduction, p.34

[n.b. immiseration is as good a technique of control as inspiration, or even the misidentification of the needs of the ruling classes as your own. Along with force, a technique of increasing the rate of exploitation (austerity) can be a technique for reducing the capacity of the working class for resistance.] (via itsworsethanthat)

(via jayaprada)

Messing With Our Minds: The Ever Finer Line Between News and Advertising | Kingsley Dennis (2)

Today’s media, which includes the dominant presence of advertising, extensively uses the notion of “attractors” and “attractor patterns” to target audience consciousness. This type of symbol manipulation is often referred to in the business as neuromarketing. Mainstream media corporations are using the huge growth in global communications to further shape their science of targeting human consciousness. In the case of neuromarketing, many advertisers first audience-test their commercials using brain-scanning techniques in order to know which part of a person’s brain is being activated by the specific strong attractors. For example, it has been discovered that specific attractors can bypass the logical part of the brain and impact the emotional part. In such cases as the film industry, the advertisers place an award symbol (such as an Oscar or Golden Globe) which has proven to be an effective “strong attractor” which influences the emotional part of the brain. The philosophy here is to adjust the level of consciousness of an advertisement in relation to the measurable level of consciousness of the consumer. Advertisers are aware that a person’s consciousness passes on messages indirectly to the body in the form of galvanic skin response, pupil response, electrical nerve response, etcetera, and so every element of the screen promotion must elucidate the correct conscious reception. In order to achieve this correct set of attractor patterns, all elements of the advertising package are deliberately worked on: the music, the visuals, the script, the voice. Interesting, symbolic strong attractors that have the most impact to persuade the audience include visuals such as smiley faces and cute animals (dogs wagging their tails and kittens purring). In terms of voiced attractors, they include words such as “honesty,” “integrity,” “freedom,” “hope and change,” “friendship,” etcetera. From here, it is clear how politicians use a great deal of these attractor patterns in their speeches and promotional material.

Messing With Our Minds: The Ever Finer Line Between News and Advertising | Kingsley Dennis

Modern programs of social influence could not exist without the mass media. Today it exists as a combination of expertise and knowledge from technology, sociology, social behaviorism, psychology, communications and other scientific techniques. Almost every nation needs a controlled mainstream media if it is to regulate and influence its citizenry. By way of the mainstream media, a controlling authority is able to exert psychological influence upon people’s perception of reality. This capacity works hand in hand with the more physical components, such as enforcing the legal system and national security laws (surveillance and monitoring). State control, acting as a “psychological machine,” instigates specific psychological manipulations in order to achieve desired goals within its national borders (and often beyond). Examples of these psychological manipulations include the deliberate use of specific cultural symbols and embedded signifiers that catalyze conditioned reflexes in the populace. These triggers have included the words “red” and “communist” during the United States’ 1950s McCarthyism, and “Muslim terrorist” during the currently constructed war on terror. Targeted reactions can thus be achieved, making the populace open to further manipulation in this state. This is a process of psychic re-formation that works repeatedly to soften up the people through continued and extensive exposure to particular stimuli. These are the symbols, artificial and human-made, that we live by in order to allow for the construction of a compliant society. [++]

The real mass media are basically trying to divert people. “Let them do something else, but don’t bother us (us being the people who run the show). Let them get interested in professional sports, for example. Let everybody be crazed about professional sports or sex scandals or the personalities and their problems or something like that. Anything, as long as it isn’t serious. Of course, the serious stuff is for the big guys. ‘We’ take care of that.” Noam Chomsky (via noleadersplease)

(via mlesblog-deactivated20120325)