So I've re-read some of the German sociologist Ulrich Beck and determined the following way of presenting capitalism's "issues" to undergrads while in the shower:
1. Capitalism only works by feeding itself. It has no natural predators. It is a badly written game system that serves no one.
2. To feed itself, it must constantly monetize and rationalize the world.
3. Monetizing and rationalizing the world means subverting or destroying structures that do not provide capital and predictable gains. Everything must become an "industry." Everything consumable, and locked away.
4. Capitalism actually doesn't act on the level of the individual - it requires unassailable institutions (governments, corporations, industry networks) that systematize the extraction of wealth and value through making everything consumable but locked away.
5. Minimizing risk in the extraction of wealth and value means projecting any social, health or financial problems onto the individual.
6. Individuals then become the managers of their own risk (Beck's thesis). They are isolated, alone with their bad bargains and untenable decisions. Cutting them off from communities or inserting capitalist relations into communities to monetize and rationalize them make these individuals easier to control and incorporate into capitalist logics (debt, alienated labor).
7. Nobody likes being the manager of one's own risk (how stressful!), so those who can afford it quietly build up new social defenses (i.e. personal wealth, gated communities, Platinum cards) against the risk management.
8. The wealthy's bolstering of their own defenses requires capital, so further pressure is applied on those poorer individuals ("young, loitering, non-property-owning, poor" as Rich Benjamin recently put it) to create a safety net for themselves. Communities for the 1% holding all the wealth preserve pre-capitalist social networks and leisures. They help perpetuate the chaos outside their walls while believing themselves to be mere managers of their own wealth. A community-defense mentality sets in, and others not in on the 1% believe they can gain access to their safety nets if they help capitalism push the rest of the 99% down.
9. The poor are meanwhile fed into feedback loops (like the prison industrial complex or the surveillance state) to track their risk while denying them the ability to adequately manage it.
10. Poor people turn to desperation, and so do the talented people who don't want to be poor. Everyone oppresses everyone else in the hopes of getting behind the wealthy's wall (though they're still overworked and anxious thanks to the risk society).
11. Everyone oppressing everyone else is actually not a desirable, productive or healthy psychic environment. Despite or perhaps because of their defenses, the wealthy continue to feel insecure. Were they the ones responsible for this mess? Of course not! An abstract system that, by definition, cannot take responsibility is, in fact, responsible. But they as individuals need to continue protection against risk until the mess "sorts itself out." They churn up the engines of capital to protect themselves, and the cycle continues.
I see now how socio-historical catastrophes happen. It's these damn feedback loops.
Friday, May 18, 2012
Ulrich Beck in the shower
I'm told this was originally posted by Evan Torner on some "google plus" venue. Paul Czege was kind enough to share it with me.