Over and over instruments of power in social relationships try to make us believe that some abstraction they call "free market" can work without some form of instrument, which they pretend to be against, called government.

If one wishes to think for oneself, it's imperative to deconstruct tautologies, because tautologies cannot help us to think things through:

government is virtually always coercive since....

the free market is always non-coercive since....

Well, what is government? Without a negative dialectic we are left with nothing but positivist declarations, and we can only apply truth values to such declarations.. So how about a little negative space around the positive declaration to give it some definition, like the space between notes in a jazz piece so that you know it's music not just some endless noise: "Government" is not a thing in itself. It is first of all a word, one that applies to an abstract set of rules implying organization, rules humans imagine in relationship with each other to achieve some sense of orderliness amongst themselves. And we do that because... why? Don't jump to an answer. At the very least we all together do that to achieve an order of some kind.

Is it not fair to assume that kind of agreement has always existed in some form amongst the social beings we know ourselves to be, whether written down or in the very daily set of relationships that are part of the very cooperative small hunter gathering groups that our great-great ancestors devised for daily survival? Today that set of relationships has become vastly more complex. One can maybe recognize that in doing so it has achieved vast and complex sets of rules, many codified as "law" to accommodate the many more people alive now compared to a hundred thousand year ago. Those rules, whether written down or not, are always an instrument to be put in play by the actors in society. They are nothing without actors. They couldn't be imagined without imaginers.

When that set of relationships we call "government" fails to work for everyone, then people are free -- if they realize it -- to change the abstract rules of their relationships.

This is a fact because it is something that can actually take place. Thus, there can be no nature or god dictated fact of rules, like an Old Testament or Bible, or even a Constitution, that says the ones who have managed to get all the toys in their little sandbox get to keep them. People all have to agree to that. It takes actual, get up in the morning, put on your clothes agreement for that to happen. The 1% get to keep theirs only if everyone agrees to play by the rules. And there are only a few ways the powerful can get everyone to agree to this arrangement. One of those ways is: people are said to agree when the lie that we are a voting democracy legitimizing this relationship is generally accepted as what is taking place. Everybody agrees and everyone just goes along.

The 1% own and control 90% everything and the rest have about 10% of what's left is believed to be the way of things. It's natural because it's "obvious" the 1% ______ed it. Put in whatever operative logic you want. An important instrument in maintaining that belief is the power to control ideas, otherwise known in the Twentieth Century as "public relations" or, we can use the other word, not so pretty, propaganda, which comes in many flavors and varieties.

When that "belief" in those abstract ideas that maintain control suddenly disappears, which can happen very suddenly, like when the rent of mortgage payment can't be made, the food can't be bought, the gas for the car can't be purchased, and people rise up in revolt, then the other end of the management logic spectrum comes into play and those who are the organized enforcement instruments for keeping this social fiction going can invoke systems of logic that wield the technology of force. Again, individual human beings must do any of this, a policeman must willingly perform as a machine of enforcement in the institutional system of logic that involves keeping the order. A policeman must do his job, there's no cpu, there's no software, a human being does this. Exactly how no one has yet been able to say with absolute certainty. And without that certainty, we ought to be respectful of each other and what we do.

It's helpful to keep these contradictory assumptions in perspective by the conscious recognition that this enforcement instrument includes the highly developed institutional force that has evolved into modern day police and military technological instruments. These are all part of social evolutionary principles involving technology.

Technology, and a society that is now fundamentally technological in its very organization, is not a one person invention. Technology comes out of a milieu of culture. The languages we take for granted are part of this phenomenon. No individual invents their own language they learn to use by the time they are three years of age. Nor can any individual even use the technology them without language. No individual proclaim to the world that they own a piece of property without language. And technology, which is now our medium of existence, cannot exist without all the parts of that milieu organizing in a constant process, most of which takes place through the agreement in actions of individuals.

Someone has to perform any act for the sake of governing -- that is, making sure things stay in some sort of order. The governed as well as the enforcers of rules must act. No governing instrument, whether a corporation of a state government, happens on its own. Is that not obvious? And that brings up the question of power. And the question of power brings up the question of what exactly we are perceiving in this growing phenomenon we are now calling OWS. And everyone is stumbling over each other to try to control that phenomenon, which implies disorder, and disorder implies fear of the unknown, with ideas, word, labels.

A "free market" as a fact cannot possibly exist outside a social and cultural system of some kind. Which of course brings about a question: what does the word "free" mean? Yet the phrase is tossed around as if it's a reference to some technological instrument of its own, not just a logical line written in a piece of software. That may be the mistake of trying to make sense of things in an utterly rational fashion, and if you read Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations you may notice that he too was struggling with the contradiction of his own logical device, the creation of the concept: "free market".

We have inherited that struggle and we are experiencing its inevitable creation: cognitive dissonance. Because a market is merely a the sum of actions, a living and ongoing process, essentially the relationships between people within a common set, and consciously or unconsciously, depending on the awareness and intelligence of those involved, it is an agreed upon set of relationships between human beings.

Comments

Natural Lefty's picture
Natural Lefty 7 years 50 weeks ago
#1

Ren, you are spot on with your remark that such tautologies as "government is coercive" and "the free market is non-coercive" short circuit people's thought processes. Note my recent reply on the same topic in the thread by "Truth to Power." (What a misnomer.)

I think you break it down pretty well regarding the social nature of both government and market, which therefore requires compromise and consent among participators in either case. When consent is absent, it is time to change the rules. I talk about the Social Contract and the nature of society in the same vein.

People are experiencing Cognitive Dissonance because the tautologies they have been taught all their lives are turning out not to be true, but that's what you get when people endlessly repeat sound bites which sound good but have no substance.

.ren's picture
.ren 7 years 50 weeks ago
#2

Thank you for your comments on that thread, and these here. We are obviously working along the same lines of thought about this.

It's difficult to tell if these are just the same tiresome souls returning to this board over and over or simply one after another in a long line of people who have bought these tautologies as truth. I hope you are talking your own truth to power to your students every day, or at least as much as you are able given the restrictions of the education system.

And it's good that you are here at Thom's. I feel that many more people read this board than contribute. If true, then someone has to speak truth to the representatives of power that come here. They are the status quo that people need to feel confident they can question. By demonstrating that we are questioning a simple-minded tautology we may do more than we hope for those silent readers. It is not easy to question because it takes so much more awareness and thought than the tautologizers want to acknowledge about our greater humanity. Though they may never acknowledge the questioning, others will see it. OWS is a testament to that. Stay cool.

Antifascist's picture
Antifascist 7 years 44 weeks ago
#3

Hey Ren!

That's classic Wittgensteinian style!

Laborisgood's picture
Laborisgood 7 years 44 weeks ago
#4

The Right has been winning this word game for far too long. Nobody wants coercion. The times they are a changin’, however. Look no further than Frank Luntz recently admitting to fear of Occupy. Sure, he’s cultivating fear votes, but it also signals the Right’s realization of the awakening of the people to the realities of coercion.

Americans are becoming more wise to where the coercion is coming from. As a sound bite, free markets and deregulation appear to be less coercive, but the reality we experience tells us otherwise. We become more coerced by the banks and corporations as we allow the application of the “free markets” and deregulation.

Our government should be working in our best interest to minimize the coercion inflicted by the banks and corporations, but they have been largely co-opted to become useful tools in furthering that coercion. As a sound bite, taxation sounds coercive, but the reality of who is taxed and how much tells us that those at the top are not the ones being coerced nearly as much as us.

The Luntzian mind control via word usage has run it’s course. Everyday more people who don’t even know who Luntz is are reaching conclusions that are polar opposite to his and the Right’s intended goals. It’s not very difficult to identify the sources of the coercion and we don’t need sound bites to help explain it. Words are very powerful, but they do have limitations. Tautology does not trump reality.

Our government needs to improve and enforce anti-trust & labor laws, financial & environmental regulations, tax & trade policies as well as change the mindset on a slew of social programs in such a way to minimize the private sector coercion which we have become slaves to. Government can bring less coercion. Less government means more coercion and not the other way around.

Natural Lefty's picture
Natural Lefty 7 years 44 weeks ago
#5

Ren, I don't think I ever saw your comments. These posts get pushed off the homepage so quickly that if one doesn't seek it out, one may never see it again. It's fortunate that Antifascist and Laborisgood replied to it today.

I do think we are on the same page regarding these issues. About my classes, I do sometimes talk about politically relevant issues from a progressive perspective, and the results have been quite encouraging. I am realizing that most students these days are really "getting it" or starting to "get it" regarding what is going on politically and economically in this society. In fact, college students are largely driving the OWS movement, but a great many people do visit this site, and I do believe that they are influenced by it and other progressive sites. In fact, as potentially egotistical as it may seem, I believe it's true that people such as us are among the intellectual leaders of the OWS movement. When I went to Occupy Riverside, one of my recent students who had read my blog and complimented me on it, was among the leaders there. Most of the people there were students, and teachers from the school where I teach were also among the leaders and instructors at their informal human rights school there.

Just yesterday, I had a talk with my class about economic realities and how the system is rigged. I also see progressive ideas written on the board every monday morning, including yesterday -- by whom, I don't know. One time it said, "Occupy Moreno Valley,' which is a nice idea, but there is nothing worth occupying here. LOL. We all went over to Riverside and occupied it instead.

By the way, I think your email account has been hacked. I got something from your email address yesterday, but it was some sort of ad and obviously not from you. It had a link to someone named "Andrew Spencer."

nimblecivet 7 years 33 weeks ago
#6

I watched an episode of a series called "The Monarchy" that demonstrates I think some of the ideas that are being promoted as "history" for the purpose of reinforcing the perspectives you talk about, such as the concept of the "free market." Basically, the root of the argument is that thousands of years ago warring tribes in what we now call England created a form of monarchy that preserved "freedom" all this time up until today. So there's an equivalence between the compact reflected in the monarchy of early Britain and the concept of democracy according to the producers of this (British) series. Its more of an equivocation. The balance of power between warlords is a far cry from the institutionalized recognition of human rights fundamental to modern democracy. But this historical revisionism reveals the ideological presuppositions which undermine it; its tautological in my opinion to state that freedom is the excercise of power, and the excercise of power is neutral as a concept to the integrity of the concept of democracy.

I like the way you explained "negative dialectics," as the space between the notes. One of the reasons I bring up historical revisionism (for lack of a better term) is that it provides a tool for those who seek to justify getting rid of government. See, I don't think that the "instruments of power" are pretending to be against government. I think they actually view their own interest in taking over the functions of government as the logical extension of increasing their own power. And of course, those functions include the excercise of state power in the form of police and prisons, etc. Thus, the tension between the two statements "gov. is coercive" vs. "gov. is not coercive" forms two categories: those whose votes favor the existence of government are those forced into doing so by their lack of power in the "free market."

But that's the thing about power isn't it? The fact that power is obtained under the auspices of a society which functions according to law doesn't contradict the raw assertion of power in the act of ending "government" in the form of civil political institutions. Instead, it argues that the transformation of government is the dialectical outcome of the tension between the contradictory statements about the nature of government. The free market is at once something which is supposed to exist outside of government (in the strictist rhetoric, acting only as an inhibitor and not at all as an enabler, in the more moderate rhetoric as an enabler which has outlived its usefulness in that corporate america is now able to "do it better") and as something which will be born through the death of government. Instead of Bob Marley's "Could You Be Loved?" we get "Are Good Enough to be Borg?"

The direct association between "freedom" and the "free market" is comparable to the early days of the British monarchy in that it is only a few people that have power. But as long as the right to wield power is not contradicted, according to the rhetoriticians of power, then everybody has freedom; the 1% earned it. So all the vicissitudes of history can be read as the "nature of power;" but is that a tautology?

nimblecivet 7 years 33 weeks ago
#7
Quote .ren:

...

Is it not fair to assume that kind of agreement has always existed in some form amongst the social beings we know ourselves to be, whether written down or in the very daily set of relationships that are part of the very cooperative small hunter gathering groups that our great-great ancestors devised for daily survival? Today that set of relationships has become vastly more complex. One can maybe recognize that in doing so it has achieved vast and complex sets of rules, many codified as "law" to accommodate the many more people alive now compared to a hundred thousand year ago. Those rules, whether written down or not, are always an instrument to be put in play by the actors in society. They are nothing without actors. They couldn't be imagined without imaginers.

The difference in form is conceptualized through the notion of "republic," right? As in "Union of Soviet Socialist Republics." What does the public become once transformed by the law which it authorizes?

Quote .ren:

...

When that set of relationships we call "government" fails to work for everyone, then people are free -- if they realize it -- to change the abstract rules of their relationships.

This is a fact because it is something that can actually take place. Thus, there can be no nature or god dictated fact of rules, like an Old Testament or Bible, or even a Constitution, that says the ones who have managed to get all the toys in their little sandbox get to keep them. People all have to agree to that. It takes actual, get up in the morning, put on your clothes agreement for that to happen. The 1% get to keep theirs only if everyone agrees to play by the rules. And there are only a few ways the powerful can get everyone to agree to this arrangement. One of those ways is: people are said to agree when the lie that we are a voting democracy legitimizing this relationship is generally accepted as what is taking place. Everybody agrees and everyone just goes along.

While I agree with you here basically, I would like to point out that when you say people are "free...to change the abstract rules" that you are talking about the excercise of power. When a long chain of abuses makes it necessary then yes the public may if able (not necessarilly a given currently) to change the form of government. Of course, if this has come about then it is a failure to exploit democratic institutions for the purpose of rectifying the problem. I suppose I would have to admit that under certain circumstances the theoretical possibility of excercising power through democratic institutions is insufficient to justify adhering to the law.

Quote .ren:

...

Someone has to perform any act for the sake of governing -- that is, making sure things stay in some sort of order. The governed as well as the enforcers of rules must act. No governing instrument, whether a corporation of a state government, happens on its own. Is that not obvious? And that brings up the question of power. And the question of power brings up the question of what exactly we are perceiving in this growing phenomenon we are now calling OWS. And everyone is stumbling over each other to try to control that phenomenon, which implies disorder, and disorder implies fear of the unknown, with ideas, word, labels.

Yes, there's a tension within OWS between "reform" and "revolution"; are we able to see their mutual interdependence given the necessities of action incumbent upon those who value freedom? Freedom is not merely an abstract concept which can be applied universally to all human action. It is, in the abstract, more a set of possibilities containing infinite elements of that set (to use mathematical terms) but which is delimited by absolute principles. "Thou shalt not kill.", for example. Well, we try to make this an absolute principle, but we don't argue that this law eliminates individual freedom. Freedom exists within a set of conditions created by law and modern political institutions.

Quote .ren:

...

We have inherited that struggle and we are experiencing its inevitable creation: cognitive dissonance. Because a market is merely a the sum of actions, a living and ongoing process, essentially the relationships between people within a common set, and consciously or unconsciously, depending on the awareness and intelligence of those involved, it is an agreed upon set of relationships between human beings.

While we the people have been "free" or believed that we were so while we tacitly or explicitly approved the laws which enabled those to acheive a state of power which some of us see as a threat to freedom, this failure of the law to prevent this threat from emerging requires a reform or revolutionary movement which rectifies the situation somehow. I think this is the discussion "we" need to be having. How do we justify such a "rewriting" of the contract? Notice that the question is not one of revising the parts of said contract which define our institutions; while some may view this goal as desireable to persue it now would be opportunistic in some sense. The "contract" here is that which is said to exist within society through the law but according to the actions of individuals in the "free market." I'm not sure that the contradictions and tautologies involved with the rationalizations by which the masses have been decieved are in themselves suffient grounds for completely undoing the power relationships which have come about. A revolutionary movement may spring from OWS, but OWS itself cannot provide the framework for a revolutionary agenda no matter how radical the reforms or how thorough the process of undoing the damage which has been done. Informed by a revolutionary consciousness, yes. Conducive to a revolutionary agenda, yes. But a revolutionary agenda, informed by the historic roots of the concept in both the overthrow of government as well as the ongoing process of social evolution within which the functions of government are included, needs its own platform. Not that you said anything about revolution, I'm just saying.

Anyway, hope to see you keep posting and commenting.

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