I first encountered this famous remark of Heine's in Freud, who was discussing revenge; Heine wrote:
Mine is a most peaceable disposition. My wishes are: a humble cottage with a thatched roof, but a good bed, good food, the freshest milk and butter, flowers before my window, and a few fine trees before my door; and if God wants to make my happiness complete, he will grant me the joy of seeing some six or seven of my enemies hanging from those trees. Before death I shall, moved in my heart, forgive them all the wrong they did me in their lifetime. One must, it is true, forgive one's enemies-- but not before they have been hanged.
Totally believable and totally disgusting. In a civilized society, these pointless people would be separated from the money that makes their excesses possible. (And it's an illusion that this behavior is confined only to the Upper East Side.)
You've linked to two articles by Todd Gitlin recently. Both indicate troubling characteristics of college students that are possibly (at least in part) attributable to the influence that capitalism exerts on American culture (e.g. freshmen are now in general more interested in great financial success than "develop[ing] a meaningful philosophy of life," while in 1974 the latter was more strongly valued than the former - perhaps this is explicable in terms of changes in the college population, but from what I understand (uniquely capitalistic) economic forces may well be to blame). Then there are larger worries about growing depression among Americans (Gitlin speaks to this in one of the articles that you posted), which is sometimes vaguely explained as a product of an empty consumer culture that allegedly breeds nihilism. (A more expansive list of cultural problems supposedly produced by capitalism is offered by Terry Eagleton in Why Marx was Right: "Alienation, the ‘commodification’ of social life, a culture of greed, aggression, mindless hedonism and growing nihilism, the steady hemorrhage of meaning and value from human existence . . . .")
In light of the foregoing, my question is this: Are there any good, and relatively recent, books or articles that argue that capitalism has deleterious effects on American (or, more broadly, Western) culture? If there are, I've had little success in finding them. The Frankfurt School is clearly relevant here, but Adorno, Horkheimer, and Marcuse were (obviously) engaged with a world substantially different from the current one, and the modern representatives of the Frankfurt School (e.g. Habermas and Honneth) repeatedly strike me as far too gentle with contemporary culture, possibly for fear of seeming too pessimistic.
Habermas basically abandoned the original critical/Marxian/Freudian aspects of Critical Theory in favor of a return to Kant. But the question posed is a good one. What would readers recommend by sociologists, historians, political theorists, philosophers etc.?
Now you know what I'm working on this evening. Here it is in brief: Marx thought technological innovation under capitalism would produce a falling rate of profit for capitalist enterprises, but he thought this because he accepted the labor theory of value, which is false. Yet at the limit technological innovation under capitalism will produce a falling rate of profit because the elimination of human labor will reduce the total pool of consumers. Is there a good discussion of this in the economic literature? Thanks.
Within two decades, we will have almost unlimited energy, food, and clean water; advances in medicine will allow us to live longer and healthier lives; robots will drive our cars, manufacture our goods, and do our chores.
There won’t be much work for human beings. Self-driving cars will be commercially available by the end of this decade and will eventually displace human drivers—just as automobiles displaced the horse and buggy—and will eliminate the jobs of taxi, bus, and truck drivers. Drones will take the jobs of postmen and delivery people....
Robots are already replacing manufacturing workers. Industrial robots have advanced to the point at which they can do the same physical work as human beings. The operating cost of some robots is now less than the salary of an average Chinese worker. And, unlike human beings, robots don’t complain, join labor unions, or get distracted. They readily work 24 hours a day and require minimal maintenance. Robots will also take the jobs of farmers, pharmacists, and grocery clerks.
Medical sensors in our smartphones, clothing, and bathrooms will soon be monitoring our health on a minute-to-minute basis. Combined with electronic medical records and genetic and lifestyle data, these will provide enough information for physicians to focus on preventing disease rather than on curing it....
The writing is clearly on the wall about what lies ahead. Yet even the most brilliant economists—and futurists—don’t know what to do about it....
[A]t best we have another 10 to 15 years in which there is a role for humans. The number of available jobs will actually increase in the U.S. and Europe before it decreases. China is out of time because it has a manufacturing-based economy, and those jobs are already disappearing. Ironically, China is accelerating this demise by embracing robotics and 3D printing. As manufacturing comes back to the U.S., new factories need to be built, robots need to be programmed, and new infrastructure needs to be developed. To install new hardware and software on existing cars to make them self-driving, we will need many new auto mechanics. We need to manufacture the new medical sensors, install increasingly efficient solar panels, and write new automation software.
And see also this. Unless the productive forces of the world are used for common support, the future will be grim indeed.
UPDATE: See also this essay by sociologist Randall Collins, which starts at p. 27 in the linked volume. (Thanks to Benj Hellie for the pointer.)
[I]f you are looking for a traditional understanding of modernism and of Deleuze and Guattari, you are bound to be greatly disappointed, because the idea of understanding as a stable and unified meaning is challenged and usurped here. This is not only because there are many different and sometimes incompatible views drawn together. It is also because many of the interpretations of modernism are often self-avowedly evasive and performed as such. At its most extreme, this effect brings us close to one of Deleuze's favourite authors, Lewis Carroll, and the mad tea-party. It turns out that to understand modernism we have to understand that we cannot understand what modernism is but rather experience what it does as something disunited and discombobulating....
I will conclude with a perhaps churlish qualm or cranky misgiving, not so much about the quality of this volume on the terms it has set itself with respect to artistic modernism and Deleuze and Guattari, but rather to extensions of the modern that seem essential 'in these times', as they say. The worry came about when reading the outstanding glossary entry on the rhizome, written by Eugene Holland. He is one of the foremost and most impassioned commentators on Deleuze and Guattari and politics, in particular in relation to their critique of global capitalism. So, in reflecting upon the idea of the 'rhizome-book' he remarks that 'the aim of such a book . . . is not to represent the world as it is or what it means, but to survey and map its tendencies and becomings, for better and for worse, so as to be able to affirm the former and avert the latter' (272). It is of course no coincidence that Holland reminds us of the debt to Marx in Deleuze and Guattari and political modernism. This progressive political and philosophical side of modernism is strangely lacking in the book. It is an absence that cannot be seen as a flaw on its own terms, yet it made me feel uneasy and fleetingly sad. I wanted to scream a new slogan: Modernism is collectively political, or it dies. No doubt the authors will respond that their works are political in the sense of seeking to change situations for the better on a micro-political plane. True. Yet I sensed too great an emphasis on individual ills and local connections, rather than collective action, for either Deleuze or modernism to be up to the challenges of the collapse of progressive late-modern societies and their eyeless tottering into something far worse.
This nonsense would surely have been enough to make Marx long for the philosophical sobriety of Bruno Bauer.
This is a lightly revised version of a paper I gave last week at a very enjoyable conference on "Philosophy in the Public Sphere" at the Jindal Global University in Sonipat, India, near Delhi; the abstract:
The idea of “public philosophy”—that is, philosophy as contributing to questions of moral and political urgency in the community in which it is located—is paradoxical for two reasons. The first is that normative philosophy has no well-established substantive conclusions about the right and the good. Thus, philosophers enter into moral and political debate purporting to offer some kind of expertise, but the expertise they offer can not consist in any credible claim to know what is good, right, valuable, or any other substantive normative proposition that might be decisive in practical affairs. But philosophers—at least those in the broadly Socratic traditions--do bring to debate a method or way of thinking about contested normative questions: they are good at parsing arguments, clarifying the concepts at play in a debate, teasing out the dialectical entailments of suppositions and claims, and so on: Socratic philosophers are, in short, purveyors of what I call “discursive hygiene.” This brings us to the second paradox: although philosophers can contribute no substantive knowledge about the good and the right, they can contribute discursive hygiene. But discursive hygiene plays almost no role in public life, and an only erratic, and highly contingent, role in how people form beliefs about matters of moral and political urgency. I call attention to the role of two factors in moral judgment: non-rational emotional responses and “Tribalism,” the tendency to favor members of one “tribe” at the expense of others. The prevalence of emotional responses, especially tribalist ones, undermines the efficacy of discursive hygiene in public life.
I conclude that the role for public philosophy is quite circumscribed, though public philosophers should learn from their cousins, the lawyers, who appreciate the role that rhetoric, beyond discursive hygiene, plays in changing moral attitudes and affecting action. Along the way, I discuss Stevenson’s emotivism, what we can learn from Peter Singer’s schizophrenic role as a public philosopher (lauded for his defense of animal rights, pilloried for his defense of killing defective humans), evolutionary explanations of tribalism, the lessons of American Legal Realism for the possible relevance of discursive hygiene, and Marx and Nietzsche as "public" philosophers.
Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.
How long will it take us to understand that the entire neoliberal project – the puritanical mania for cutting taxes, cutting social services and cutting budget deficits that has dominated the Western world’s economy for more than 30 years – has been a disaster? And guess what, liberals: You don’t get to point the finger at Ronald Reagan, Maggie Thatcher and Milton Friedman and claim it was all their fault. The reformist center-left, whether it took the form of Bill Clinton and the “New Democrats,” Tony Blair and “New Labor” or the watered-down social-democratic parties of Europe, has enthusiastically rebranded itself as a servant of global capital. If you were genuinely surprised that the Obama administration loaded itself up with Wall Street insiders, or that it failed to punish anyone for the massive criminal scheme that resulted in the 2008 financial collapse, you haven’t been paying attention.
I make that point because it’s almost impossible to have a serious discussion about this country’s economic problems without getting trapped into partisan political bickering, which is almost irrelevant in this context. The activist Tea Party right (at least in its populist, non-elite form) and the activist Occupy left are essentially reacting to the same phenomenon – worsening inequality, and the long-term economic and psychic decay of the United States – but interpreting it in different ways. Working-class whites who feel an immense loss of relative privilege and social status are not wrong, for example – but it doesn’t have much to do with the Kenyan socialist Muslim in the White House, or his namby-pamby and admittedly screwed-up healthcare law. As Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz recently noted, census data reveals that men with high-school diplomas but without college degrees earn about 40 percent less today (in real terms) than they did in the 1970s. Obama didn’t do that; capitalism did.
Stiglitz concluded his essay on inequality – which argued that it was a political choice, rather than the inevitable result of macroeconomic forces – by writing that he saw us “entering a world divided not just between the haves and have-nots, but also between those countries that do nothing about it, and those that do. Some countries will be successful in creating shared prosperity — the only kind of prosperity that I believe is truly sustainable. Others will let inequality run amok.” Which kind of country do we live in? That was the question that ran through my mind this week while I was watching Frederick Wiseman’s magisterial documentary “At Berkeley,” a portrait of America’s most prestigious public university as it wrestles with piecemeal privatization and the near-total abandonment of its historic mission.
Reagan was the decisive President in my lifetime, just as Roosevelt was for a prior generation. Neither Clinton nor Obama has turned the tide, though perhaps Obama laid a foundation for someone more courageous to do so. We will see.
Interesting piece from Jacobin. (Its partial target is Mark Oppenheimer, one of the scummier journalists I've encountered, but the piece is of interest independent of the easy mark. Adorno even makes an appearance!)
Not really, superficial similarities notwithstanding. When he endorses the theory of ideology and non-teleological historical materialism, that will be different. Right now he's at the moralizing utopion socialist stage.
Alex Rosenberg (Duke), a leading philosopher of economic and biology, shared the following apt thoughts about this year's unusual prize:
So, the Swedish Central Bank's ersatz Nobel Prize for “economic science” gets awarded to a guy who says markets are efficient and there are no bubbles—Eugene Fama (“I don’t know what a credit bubble means. I don’t even know what a bubble means. These words have become popular. I don’t think they have any meaning”—New Yorker, 2010), along with another economist—Robert Shiller, who says that markets are pretty much nothing but bubbles, “Most of the action in the aggregate stock market is bubbles.” (NY Times, October 19, 2013) Imagine the parallel in physics or chemistry or biology—the prize is split between Einstein and Bohr for their disagreement about whether quantum mechanics is complete, or Pauling and Crick for their dispute about whether the gene is a double helix or a triple, or between Gould and Dawkins for their rejection of one another’s views about the units of selection. In these disciplines Nobel Prizes are given to reward a scientist who has established something every one else can bank on. In economics, “Not so much.” This wasn’t the first time they gave the award to an economist who says one thing and another one who asserts its direct denial. Cf. Myrdal and Hayek in 1974. What’s really going on here? Well, Shiller gave the game away in a NY Times interview when he said of Fama, “It’s like having a friend who is a devout believer of another religion.” Actually it’s probably two denominations in the same religion.
Continental Philosophy Farhang Erfani, a philosopher at American University, provides a useful set of links to news, events, interviews, reviews, videos, etc. related to "Continental philosophy" (broadly construed)