Capitalism is more hierarchical than ever

One of the most persistent delusions is the idea that capitalism has entered a new “spirit,” one in which it is no longer “Fordist” or hierarchical in the way it works. As Slavoj Zizek put it,

Capitalism abandoned the hierarchical Fordist structure of the production process…and developed a network-based form of organization that accounted for employee initiative and autonomy in the workplace. As a result, we get networks with a multitude of participants, organizing work in teams or by projects, intent on customer satisfaction and public welfare…

In this way, capitalism usurped the left’s rhetoric of worker self-management, turning it from an anti-capitalist slogan to a capitalist one. It was Socialism that was conservative, hierarchic and administrative.

Right off the bat this seems suspicious, at the most immediate level, do we see a radically different world of freer workers? In films like Office Space, were people complaining about how autonomous they were? If anything it is the exact opposite, we are entering an age that is more hierarchical than in centuries.

The idea that the workplace changed to be freer comes from Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello’s 1999 book, The New Spirit of Capitalism. In it, they look at the managerial literature from the late 1800s to today and look at how corporations tried to internally resolve some of the critiques that were offered. Of course while the evidence is vast, the conclusion does not follow; by examining how managers talked to each other, all it shows is the propaganda that companies used, not whether the structure actually changed.

In contrast, organizational studies show that the organization did change but not in the way Boltanski and Chiapello predicted. What is called “guard labor,” that is, the labor that is used to keep people under control rather than to do something productive, has dramatically increased. As one study shows, management has gone from about 10 percent throughout the 1940s-60s to 16 percent today. The authors even wrote about it in the New York Times (blog), and the problem could conceivably be getting worse.

supervisors

If this has shown anything, it is that capitalism is inherently hierarchical, and that, instead of following corporate propaganda, we should be looking for ways to change it.

The Conservative Fantasy of Godzilla (Analysis and Spoilers)

Some people have looked at the political message of Godzilla (2014) because of how surprising frequent it is, given it’s a giant monster movie. On the one hand there is the heavy handed anti-nuclear message: literally, giant monsters emerged because of nuclear submarines and the past 50 years of tests were secret attempts to pacify them. In fact, one of the complaints was that there was not enough Godzilla and too much story. But on the other is the hidden symbolic message that this supposedly progressive movie has.

To put it simply, the film argues that we’ve angered the gods. Humanity was doing fine until nuclear power came about which led to an “imbalance” by attracting giant monsters. As Ken Watanabe says explicitly:

“The error in man is thinking nature is in our control and not the other way around.”

Thus the solution is Godzilla, as the “Alpha Predator.” As Watanabe says, his role is to restore order and the only thing humans can do is to “let them fight.”

Human Responsibility for Our Actions

One of the great appeals for having a mythical “natural order” is that it alleviates human responsibility. It’s something that Eric Fromm pointed out in Escape From Freedom, if we are no longer the agents in control of events, then we are not responsible for them.

Surprisingly, even though Godzilla tried to make nuclear power look bad it ironically did the opposite. Instead of just having disasters and fallout because of horrific policies and technology, in the film’s universe they were defenses against giant monsters. That is, the injuries from nuclear power was out of self-defense, rather than a catastrophe in-itself (If the movie went one step further, it might have negated the 1954 original by arguing that the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were really just attempts to kill Godzilla.)

In a sense this is an easier story to take, instead of governments and corporations inflicting pain on their own people (as the US and USSR did in their nuclear tests), they can be rationalized as defensive measures, as almost all horrific crimes are.

Return To a “Natural” (Read: Overtly Patriarchal) Order  

Nuclear power is in many ways the perfect folly because it gets liberals on board with “restoring nature.” The problem is what kind “nature” is movie is implying. One is overt male hierarchy, as Wantabe illustrates there is a prophecy for the “Alpha” Predator to kill the other Muto monsters: a smaller male and larger (read: dominant) female.

If that symbolism wasn’t obvious enough image this: Godzilla is a giant MRA rampaging through San Fransisco while the male Mutto is a fedora-wearing Nice Guy and the female Muto is an All Powerful Feminist. This follows a slew of recent sci fi/action films of men “taking back” control from women like Doghouse (2009) or Wanted (2008).

This of course is usually a chauvinistic fantasy which in real life leads to things like the recent Santa Barbara shooting. The only science fiction film that accurately portrays men “taking back” control is Chronicle (2012) where the main character uses telekinesis to become an “Apex Predatory” (not unlike the Alpha Predator of Godzilla) and essentially became a murderer.

Restoration of Fatherhood

As Zizek pointed out, if there is one thing any conservative/patriarchal movie needs it’s a restoration of paternal authority. Godzilla doesn’t just have one father restoring himself in the eyes of his children but two. The first is Bryan Cranston, who through Malcom in the Middle to Breaking Bad, is sort of the epitome of fathers taking back respect. Anyways, he goes from conspiracy-theory cook to justified in proving that that were actually giant monsters! (and to insult to injury, he was the only decently acted character in the whole film). Next is Aaron Taylor-Johnson who is too aloof and removed from his kid. Ultimately, he helps save the city and is reunited with his family by the end.

Did I mention that in addition to two fathers reconciling that are three kids that end up getting fathered? In addition to Taylor-Johnson and his son, there’s also a separated kid in San Fransisco that Taylor-Johnson basically fathers on the side.

The Director Made A Film About Immigrant Space Aliens Destroying Society

But wait, maybe I’m looking too deeply into this. Well that would be the case if Gareth Edwards wasn’t so on the nose reactionary. In Monsters (2010) the whole premise is that space aliens crashland on the US-Mexico border (Get it? Space/Mexican Aliens!) and have “infected” and essentially destroyed the US (oh…).

It just goes to show how a progressive premise (nuclear power bad!) can be executed in such an absurdly reactionary way.

Prisoners (2012) Is Hobbesian As Hell

After seeing the thriller Prisoners, the title became obvious: everyone is imprisoning everyone else. Whether it’s child kidnappers or Hugh Jackman kidnapping suspected kidnappers, or even one kidnapper holding himself captive(?)  the film showcases how under duress people engage in terrible behavior, not limited to torture and zealotry.

Ironically, there is one group of people who don’t unethically imprison people: the police. Throughout the film they only make two arrests with one leading to no charges and another which probably would have led to the same thing. Likewise, by the end it’s the officer Jake Gyllenhaal who ends up saving the day.

If this isn’t some giant Hobbesian defense of the state I don’t know what is. Hobbes made it a point to say that people fight each other in a war of “all against all” and that only a leviathan, or central authority, can stop it. The film portrays seven people in a small Pennsylvania town who are either directly or indirectly involved in kidnapping and torture (as if kidnapping and torture is the norm) while the police’s only problem is not charging/killing enough people.

It’s a sad state of affairs when Hollywood portrays people as the problem and not the police themselves.

What The “God Spot” Argument Says About Our Culture

After recently hearing someone argue that we have a “god spot” or “god gene” which makes us religious, I was thinking about how troubling that kind of thinking was.

To quickly clear things up: we don’t have one. But even with the empirical evidence, this kind of thinking should not even make sense. Take something like sports, which goes all the way back to the origins of anatomically modern humans. As something that’s so old and important, does that mean we should have a “sports spot” in our brains? No; sports, much like religion, are a complex process that uses many different evolutionary aspects.

To use the (in)famous term, they’re spandrels: byproducts of evolution which form from other direct adaptions. There’s no reason to assume that a specific part of our brain is wired to play baseball or worship a certain religion, they’re possibilities that humans are capable of.

Which brings this to culture. Part of it is ideological on the part of those in power: as one article points out, genes are the new, old excuse for social problems. But part of it is a problem with our modernized culture. The irony is that things are so becoming so advanced that we start to assume that the technology is “natural” and thus our lives are “naturally” structured around it.

This is pure teleology, or the belief that contingent ends were based on natural purposes. As the idiot philosopher in Candide says, “noses were made to wear spectacles;” Of course people did not evolve finding glasses in the forest, it was a human invention. Likewise there is not necessarily a single part of the brain to explain complex behavior, it is various things expressed through our will.

And this is not to say that humans are mystical beings that can’t be reduced by science, what is saying is our lives are not necessarily designed for a natural purpose, whether through religion or technology.

Apparently Silicon Valley Fascism Is A Thing

Yes you read the title correctly, as a Baffler article details, there is a concerted political movement from Silicon Valley techies to implement “a national CEO [or] what’s called a dictator.” Oh wait and it gets better, that’s the progressive (or as one member says “politically correct”) version of the movement, the less progressive sects of the so-called “Dark Enlightenment” are pro-eugenics, and see slavery as “a natural human relationship.”

Clearly they’ll get nowhere if they keep fighting, the neo-reactionaries need to meet somewhere in the middle, between a progressive Orwellian dystopia and a horrifying Dickean slave state.

The scariest part of this movement is that it is not just a fringe phenomenon, but has echoes in people like Peter Thiel, aka the billionaire investor behind PayPal and Facebook. Here is part of a Stanford lecture he gave in 2012:

A startup is basically structured as a monarchy. We don’t call it that, of course. That would seem weirdly outdated, and anything that’s not democracy makes people uncomfortable. We are biased toward the democratic-republican side of the spectrum. That’s what we’re used to from civics classes. But the truth is that startups and founders lean toward the dictatorial side because that structure works better for startups.

In a sense he’s right, and confirms what Corey Robin said about the supposedly “libertarian” notion of right-wing freedom:

When these libertarians look out at society, they don’t always see isolated or autonomous individuals; they’re just as likely to see private hierarchies like the family or the workplace, where a father governs his family and an owner his employees.  And that, I suspect…is what they think of and like about society: that it’s an archipelago of private governments.

And perhaps that’s the worst part of the movement: the changing American culture itself. Appealing to 1984 and abolitionists from the past becomes useless when the new societal ideal is to make it big by being your own private dictator. That’s not to say most digital “peasants” will vote away their freedom, but when an irrational movement grows large enough, it has a better chance of taking power.

Has Zizek Ever Read The Dispossessed?

Whenever I hear Slavoj Zizek’s famous phrase “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism,” I immediately think of Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed. As a best-selling science fiction book, it has been unapologetically presenting anarcho-syndicalism as an alternative to capitalism for 40 years now. In fact it was so unapologetic, Philip K. Dick called it a “political sermonette all gussied up with literary style…when you strip the style away, it’s all from the poli-sci department at the University of California at Berkeley.”

So can we please stop pretending like our society is brainwashed into submission when many of its renowned books actively challenge it?