Thursday, November 30, 2006

Nicky Hager: Late-Capitalisms True Punk Rocker
Published on 1st Dec on Scoop

The fetish we call “freedom of speech” is resolutely defended in particular, we note, by the liberal right. Yet this creates a very uneasy tension. The pretence of the rational, utilitarian individual, very much aware of how things really are is contrasted heavily against the embodiment of the renounced belief in the fetish. We the public readily and eagerly (pretend to) accept the reality regurgitated weekly in the tabloid (and mainstream) press – a self-increasing spiral of production which perpetuates the very market it is responsible for creating, generating in the process of all manner of titillating, facile shite that many claim, we have the “right to know” – no matter how distasteful it is.

Hager playing the NZ media like Nintendo, is NZs answer to Malcolm McLaren, a rude, brazen punk with little regard for the public, politicians, the media or the truth. According to McLaren, “Stealing things is a glorious occupation, particularly in the art world”. Clearly we observe Hager at the peak of his art form, it’s hard not to admire his gall. The creation of a narrative that can topple political parties, must have the marketing gurus in a right tiss. In a world where the public gobble up any and all debris dished up to them by the braindead media - we deserve Hager, we need him and, we created him.

We live within an era of ambiguity between surplus-value and surplus-enjoyment. At the apogee of post-industrialism, a directionless society generates and consumes its own myths bringing forth into existence Marx’s vision of late capitalistic production – production creates the need for the consumption of the products it creates. Nicky Hager embodies this irony of capitalism. It’s hypocritical of those individuals who would enjoy the spoils of the fetish of freedom of speech, the West’s most overrated idea, whilst sneering at Hager. The great irony of capitalism, predicated on freedom, is that its most adherent proponents compulsively re-enslave themselves to its spoils. (cp. US’s entrenchment in a war against the "theft of enjoyment"). One can't help but wonder at the intellectual moralising of those that worship this fiasco. It's called freedom people, and it has you in chains.

In respect of Truth, it is irrelevant. Truth isn’t what Hager is about, Truth isn’t what anything is about. Truth is always balanced against the compulsion to enjoy. The stronger consumptive desire deprives us of autonomy turning us into clowns; it dresses us like babies and shoddier still – renders us manipulated, craving and drooling puppets.

The idiotic jouissance over Hager’s book is contra-posed against libertarian capitalistic ideals manifest in our so-called free “society of consumption”. We are obsessed with celebrity and scandal, we applaud individualism and freedom, we condemn governmentally imposed orders, yet seemingly the loudest cry of injustice regarding the Hager incident comes from the very group defending such idealism – no doubt because it has toppled their champion. I’m reminded of the old Marxist claim: capitalism unleashes a contradictory dynamic that it cannot contain. The ultimate obstacle to capitalism is capitalism itself.


nzhack said...

Either you have a deep satirical voice, or that is the worst writing I have seen in a while. What are you talking about? What is your point?

Steve said...

Ah goody, just the kind of person I aimed to offend. My point - there is no real point.

However it might be noted, I am constantly amused and bewildered at this expectation in society today that if you criticise something, or indeed merely pointlessly rant about something it is encumbent upon to you offer up some solution or explanation.

This is a pernicious market-led crock where everything and anything must be floggable before it acrues value.

That you don't get it and that you are a journalist explains itself.

Genius said...

I agree steve, blogs are good things to vent on and you dont have to write a publishable article every time you let loose.

And I mostly agree, although this particular post is a little more difficult to comment on (because of how it flows and skims over issues using metaphores), which probably what got nzhack offended.

I'll have a bit more of a look round on the site..


Steve said...

haha, yeah it was my attempt at postmodern writing.

It smacks of Zizek, Hegelian thought, Marx. NZhack is mostly right, it is satirical, but also it was pure polemic, I intended irriate in a mostly nosensical way the media, the public and everyone else.

It's all just for fun really. Although there is an undercurrent of truth in there. The fact that (even tho I'm a part of it all) I loathe what the western world has become.

Anyway, nice to meet you Genius. I do have moderate comments turned on but I publish about 99.9% of the comments posted. Even the dirtiest slaggings. :)

Steve said...

Having said all that, it does actually mean something. I will blog a footnote to the post that explains some of the terms I use. For example, Marx talks about commodity fetishism, Zizek takes that idea and applies it to the baubles and trinkets that we all want and "need" - I thought freedom of speech has become a fetish, in the sense that we obsess over it, how we define it, where we draw the line, how far people go to defend it. To be honest it's overated. We are obsessed with this "right to know" which actually came from Cresswells blog on Hager. It has become a fetish. I find that really interesting. I think it's a by product of capitalism although I don't really articulate that so much in the post.

Genius said...

Nice to meet you too.

The two themes frustrate my concept of utilitarianism.

1) I don’t like commodity fetish... it confuses what you need with what someone else told you to need. So much of your efforts to make the world better get sucked into a meaningless and bottomless hole.

2) I think we tend to forget about tradeoffs. there is always a trade off to holding one ideal up as a ultimate law. I hope people will bite the bullet and make a call on what they really want. Again if they do that it becomes easier to give them it. Is freedom of speech one of those?

maybe - I quite like it actually. I'm generally more inclined towards compromising the right to privacy, but it is better that there is a reasonable debate on which is better (and I wouldn’t hold it above everything else).

Steve said...

I think it goes way deeper than that Genius, I think the mere fact that we exist within a largely (regulated) capitalist society dictates that we view commodities as having a social character.

It is that social character related to private property so dogmatically idolised by capitalism that produces the fetish. Fetish is an illusion (although there is another angle to this which I won't discuss here), fetish functions as a kind of repressed desire.

The concept of private property as a central principle of capitalism is the origin of that illusion.

There are all sorts of variations on this, freedom of speech seems to be one - entitlement is another important one, there is an expectation that things will always get better, that I have a "right" to continue "enjoying" the spoils of capitalist society - easy motoring, cheap fuel, a house in the suburbs, these things have all normatively crept into the capitalist pscyhe, so much so that people are now dieing in Iraq for that continued enjoyment.

Now that is Fetish (with a capital F), the West cannot do without these things - the defence of that way of life (certainly in the US) has become "not negotiable".

the trade off, so the real trade off is (maybe what Sartre called) authenticity and spiritually destructive conformity ...

Steve said...

On Utilitarianism

Actually I meant to mention that - utilitarianism! I think as a philosophy, at least as an ethical basis for a political philosophy (which it essentially in as far as capitalism is concerned) it's flawed.

Utilitarianism in consequence based, the goal - to produce desirable results for the majority of its members, the greatest good for the greatest number of individuals.

This has serious problems. Firstly what is desirable is not always necessarily good. Secondly All people desire happiness not just the majority.

Utilitarianism compares a bit to the Machiavellian ideal - the means justifies the ends. This is because it is the consequence in utilitarianism that is up for moral debate - does this act or event produce the greatest good for the greatest number of people? Thus, morality is being determined by consequences (of either acts of policies) I don't think we ought to be grounding morality in either consequences or general levels of happiness. The concept of justice and equity seem to be missing from this debate.

I don't think the means can ever (universally) justify the ends.

Utilitarianism has problems.

Genius said...

I think most critiques if utilitarianism result from a misunderstanding.

Ideal utilitarianism means 'doing the right thing' (using concequentialism of course). It is completely infallible. If the right thing is 'to do exactly what Steve says' - then that is utilitarianism.

Many think utilitarianism is all about 'I can kill person x because he was just about to kill two people'. But if you think about it that is pretty arbitrary. Why not chop it off at 'I can't kill this person' or extend it to I can't kill this person because he would kill two other people who would otherwise have killed three others'?

The question is 'all things considered which action is better'
This big picture view means that if we value a world that has justice utilitarianism supports giving it at least lip service.

At a policy level what utilitarianism leaves open though is the option that we will abandon this when making a really big decision (e.g. a president might firebomb a city to prevent the release of a virus) because the threat is so large we are willing to sacrifice the compromise to long term objectives like developing a widely respected justice system.

> Private property so dogmatically idolized by capitalism.

I guess you are focusing on the permanent tangible assets (e.g. property) and I am focusing on the consumables (e.g. Coke).
I think the former is to a large extent just an allocation issue - what is the best way to allocate land? Imp not sure right now, I'd potentially support a special sort of lease on land - but I am not sure if I have a better idea than some form of capitalism on terms of other permanent tangible assets (although I’m open to suggestions).

Steve said...

I disagree Genius, you are confusing Kantian deontology ("doing the right thing") with utilitarianism - there are several different variations on utilitarianism, however utilitarianism is essentially consequentialist in its endeavours. Also you have to be careful about claiming anything at all to be totally infallible. It's a dangerous stance - usually easily toppled.

There are good and powerful arguments against utilitarianism. Consider this - if 1% of the population were put to work as cheap labour slaves for the benefit of the rest of the population the greater good would be maximised - under utilitarianism, ethically this situation would be permissible. Not however under a deontological ethical approach where the ethical stance is in respect of the individual.

Utilitarianism is about maximisation of utility - the greatest good for the maximum number. Ultimately that is where it falls down, it ignores the the individual for the benefit of the collective - check out Kant's deontology or Virtue Ethics or indeed variations such as "just consequentialism" - and before you get too carried away with saying what utilitarianism is and is not - why not get Benthams Utilitarianism and actually read it.

:) - all best, critical investigation is where it's at.


Genius said...

>you are confusing Kantian deontology ("doing the right thing") with utilitarianism

err no I definitely mean consequentialism and it is definitely unlike Kantian dentology.

I think some of these things are hard to discuss because the people involved have totally different assumptions so you don’t fully understand what the other side is saying – so I want to be careful not to allow the debate to dissolve into frustration over that.

> if 1% of the population were put to work as cheap labour slaves

I doubt that that would improve long-term utility which probably explains why evolution designed our intuition to reject it.

Steve said...

Genius, I do know a little bit about this perhaps I could be a bit clearer.

Essentially ethical theories are split into 4 (plus 1) broad categories.

Which includes several variations on utilitarianism first discussed by Bentham - the two princinples behind utilitarianism are
Social utility and,
The belief that social utility can be measured by the amount of happiness produced.

Duty-based ethical theories
Kantian deontology (categorical imperative) this differs from utilitarianism in that we do not consider the consequences of an action or a rule to determine whether the act is morally permissible.

contract-based theories
Earliest variations in Hobbes leviathan. And all the classic other variations on social contract theory et al.

character-based theories
The favorite is probably virtue ethics.

Just consequentialist
Not so ideological as the others a bit of an ad-hoc blend of deontology and utilitarianism - nevertheless on a descriptive assessment this is probably how ethics works in society.
Biggest names in this area is probably Rawls (1971 Theory of Justice), well discussed in first year ethics and political science classes, a newer account published recently by James Moor (who actually coined the term "Just-consequentialism"

Ideal utilitarianism as you said in your earlier post, does not mean "doing the right thing" this isn't what consequentialism is about - all consequentialist ethical arguments rest on a premise in argument for a "consequence" that consequence must have social utility for it to be a utilitarian argument.

To argue an ethical point based on "doing the right thing" will more likely be arguing from an deontological basis, this is because "doing the right thing" seems to stress a role of duty and respect in your action. This is definately a duty-based argument.

Modern capitalism and democracy is roughly based on utilitarianism. Although concepts of justice, equity, duties and rights do play a balancing role, represented by various institutions and authoritative bodies.

Proponents of pure capitalism or, in fact any pure ideology often fail to comprehend the subtleties in the human condition.

Steve said...

Genius, I should add. No ethical theory is unfallible.

If we had that we'd live in a utopian society where fairness, justice and equity were a given, there would be no courts, and no unhappiness (remember utilitarianism stresses the importance of happiness).

Furthermore, if any particular ethical standpoint was unfallible, there would be nothing to write about. We wouldn't be here discussing it.

They are all fallible.

Utilitarianism ignores the concerns of justice for minorities - this is a well rehearsed argument against utilitarianism so please don't just say "no it doesn't" before finding out more about it.

Deontology values freedom of speech, human rights and justice far more than utilitarianism which would place majority happiness above these values. I think most people would choose these Kantian principles over consequentialism every time.

Well, lets face it if they didn't we wouldn't have a 3-term labour Government.

Genius said...

> "doing the right thing" this isn't what consequentialism is about

if you are a concequentialist doing the right thing is behaving as a concequentialist should. Doing the think that creates the best long term outcome. I personally don’t think deontology is coherent because
1) I cant see what a universal definition of what ‘an action’ or 'a decision' would be other than an arbitrary definition. (this may need some explination)
2) What would be the foundation for the rules?
is that also arbitrary?

In reality governments, particularly labour, make these sorts of decisions every day. For example regarding how much they will spend on preventing a road death whether they will pass laws to prevent smoking in certain places and regarding costs of enforcement or whether to fund drugs. This means a party like labour can make utilitarian decisions and present a front that appears to be somewhat deontological and yet achieves good outcomes. On the other hand you could have a party that was entirely deontological but which did not present a deontological front and achieved bad outcomes. (For example a party where all members took uncompromising principled stands and thus was never able to provide a unified message or desired outcome.)

> Modern capitalism and democracy is roughly based on utilitarianism.

very roughly. When I look at capitalism I see all the things about it that DONT achieve the best outcome. I guess, when YOU look at it it just looks like a simple attempt to achieve the best outcome. So you see all the similarities and I see all the differences. Rather like Chinese and Thai might sound the same to you but totally different to me.

> If we had that we'd live in a utopian society.

utilitarianism just tells you what you should do to improve the situation (to improve utility) - that doesn’t mean there exists a perfect situation (it is a bit like trying to catch air in your hands) or that we are in a position to achieve it at the moment.

> Utilitarianism ignores the concerns of justice for minorities.

hmmm... Our difference here has nothing to do with knowing what utilitarianism is it is to do with how we understand reality and what is valuable. THAT is one key reason why philosophers don’t come to resolutions on these sorts of debates.

Strictly speaking utilitarianism ignores justice for minorities.
Again, strictly speaking, to a utilitarian that would be like an average person taking a speech made by a great orator and casually adding a few pages to his speech to try to make it better. The point being no mater how hard that person tried he could only make it worse. That doesn’t mean you don’t at some level ‘want a good speech’ of course.

> Deontology values....

Humans have intuitions that are suitable for their evolution. They may not be exactly identical to moral theory.

> Well, lets face it if they didn't we wouldn't have a 3-term labour Government.

hmm... I voted labour, of course.

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