Saturday, February 4, 2012

"The Wasteland"

Societies have their main influences and persons. Amongst these main influences is what we might call "the conservative establishment." They are the leading societal force. They push certain ideas, and the ideas the conservatives push seems to be ideas that function, in terms of society's idea of itself. This is what I mean in general by "main influences and persons" who establish certain main public ideas. They push certain ideas about what should motivate us. Motives would include the motive of making money, which is something that is terribly important. Making da money is terribly important, in any case. This is important to many of us. Not me, I have money in the bank. But for most persons, as we (OK: you!) try to make money in a capitalistic society or capitalist environment you are extremely susceptible. (Would not have know how to spell that; I owe my teacher the spell-check a great debt of gratitude, I'm sure.)
     So: the "conservative establishment" are persons that tell us what to think, in regard to public things. Or, controversial things. One example: the making of money.
     The "establishment" are the creators of cultural currents. They create the main currents. They are the leading edge, the public edge, of the society. And they are the public expression or public presence of society's elites. Since they have all these functions, they are able to create a value system, what Vidal calls RW, or "received wisdom." The "establishment" is where you get your basic RW -- ideas that "must" be true. Enough said? Is there anything more that could be said? About such an everyday experience? It is not necessarily even something bad or abnormal. Societies have their values, and they safeguard them. All societies do this; it is "cultural."
     Today, as in all other days, this is so. For us, too, certain influences and persons are at the lead. Today, they are also sometimes called the neo-liberals (i.e., in the context of world trade). But, for the sake of having just one name, we are going to stick with "conservative establishment," at least until I get bored of using it.

     The society gathers and coordinates itself around these themes or currents. All cultures have their ideas. It's no big deal. But it is a big deal should the ideas be really, really crappy.
     In any case such ideas emerge and they are out front and center. They are public.
     We, too, get to have our ideas.
     Our era's idea is that as for the explanation of life it's about money. This comes to you courtesy of the conservative establishment. Let's say we, for example, want to know about universities -- not just how to get into one -- also the how and why of it.
     According to today's prominent action figures, we should see the university and most other things we do as human beings in terms of money. They want to drill this into our heads. So let's try it, then. After all, it is the RW. We should consider, for example, that universities exist only insofar as they make money. And that is right. Isn't it? So, they exist to make profit. It makes sense. We have also accepted the RW but in any case the making of money becomes the centerpiece of the investigation into the nature of the university. The nature of the university is that it is there to make money.
     We seriously believe this. This is real to us. We do not experience this idea as one idea among many; it is central. It is what we are supposed to believe nowadays. It is the current, preferred explanation in establishment circles. There can be no newspapers or magazine articles without due obeisance to this. We use this thinking to bring order and rationality to life. We accept it. Let's do it, then. Let's just do it. Let's provisionally accept that the leading force in the society is, UM ---- making money. We don't really feel better or worse for that. We have accepted the statement. The leading force is the need to make money. The leading force in society is the making of, pursuit of ---- money.

     Now there are some interesting things about that statement, should we really attempt to inquire into it. One of these interesting things is that it seems to require being expressed in vernacular, making of money. These three words are vernacular. There are many other interesting things we could say about the statement above, but, continuing to focus on the seeming need to use vernacular expression: when I am trying to understand what society is telling me to think I find that I am using the phrase "making money," and it is quite an informal phrase. I believe one calls this the "vernacular." But assuming we want to go deeply into things, don't we want to go deeper than the vernacular? What does it really mean to make money? The purpose of life is to make money, or earn a profit. This is what we are told. But what does that mean? Aren't we scholars? Don't we want to understand what we mean? What do we mean by "making money"? Heavens to Betsy, I would think we would want to know. If "making money" is so important, we would want to know what the hell it is.

     We are considering the logic that tells us that universities (Evans, 1998) are for making money. This is not a secondary reason, it is the preferred explanation at least in the sense that it is the culturally dominant explanation, the explanation that the conservative establishment, which dictates what we think about the world, directs us towards. Also, hospitals -- you don't want to leave hospitals out -- they are for making money. Why do musicians strum their guitars and blow their horns? To make money. Of course. What this kind of thinking is really trying to do is get to the point where most everything is explained that way.

     This is the world we are asking our kids to live in. Money makes the world go 'round? I suppose that's the way the world works. Life itself is the pursuit of profit, which is to say, making of money. That is the current received wisdom, and no one is allowed to say anything else. (Except cutting edge intellectuals like me.) It's the new tradition of truth. Now we understand that even preachers want to make money.  Aren't we enlightened? But -- I know I'm being way old-fashioned here -- but we are, after all speaking about universities. And are not universities supposed to be concerned with something like knowledge or learning? (I'll wait for the laughter to die down. I know I am throwing the audience off with these wild ideas, but...)  Since it goes without saying that the university is for money or for the purpose of turning a profit or breaking even or earning a stipend from the state, and since all of these are already accepted as given, let's combine these givens with the idea about learning. Let's combine them to get a two fold understanding, as follows. Universities are about making money. Universities are for knowledge. They are for both.
    That feels like a little deeper explanation. Isn't that also better? So just put the two together: if the university is about learning, and if we also know that it is about money, since after all we have accepted our culture's message that the university, life, and everything else is concerned with earning, with money, then we would want to learn everything we can about this activity of earning. Why can't we do that?
     We'd seek to acquire some learning about earning.
     What is 'homo economicus'?

     Here is where it would all come together.
     That would be called, just to coin a term, perhaps the "economics" department? I don't mean to coin any kind of original phrase but you would want there to be something like an economics department. And that would be where the best minds of our day would go to find out the deeper portent and significance of the RW that "the university is there to make money." How does that happen? How does that work? What actually happens when persons make money? Wouldn't you want to learn about that? I would really be curious about that. Wouldn't you? We would want to find out what we mean by "earning a living." We would not just want to know how to make money; we would want something else: to know how making money actually works as a part of life.
     No, as it turns out, you do not want to do that. Learning about what it means to make money is not something that is being done at any university. If it is, I would like to hear about it. In general, it turns out that learning has nothing to do with earning. And this is what is curious to me. If you want a good grade for the course you aren't allowed to find out about what economics really is or what money really is. Those are questions that are not going to be well-received at the university today.
     That kind of thing -- this "knowledge" you are now beginning to think about -- the actual meaning of "earning a living" -- that must remain secret! What a disappointment! I thought we were going to learn about it! No my child, all those things are secret.
     These are weighty matters that only the initiated must know about. These matters of why life is about money must stay within the realm of what has been called, by Greider, in his book of that same name, the "secrets of the temple." Ooooooooo... At any rate, that book, apparently, is  about the Federal Reserve, or the "Fed." (Whose members, presumably, went to universities, the purpose of which now turn out to be making money; what a cozy, and even poetic arrangement.)

     Secrets of finance and banks, not to mention the true story or true hoodoo or lowdown on economics, (which would be the study of why life is all about money), are kept pretty close to the vest.
     It is as if they don't want us to know.

     "Economics" thus becomes a secret kind of voodoo society within universities. This is true. I know. I was in the graduate economics program at a university, and I now study economics on my own, based on certain original insights that I have had. I have became a sort of private economist myself. As for these other economists, all the more professional ones, who operate under the watchful eye of the conservative establishment, it is not that these persons are holding any actual secret, but, at any rate, they will not be giving you any of what they have in the matter of economics insight, which is to say what they may, or not, have.
     There is this question about whether anybody actually has any knowledge of economics. But they sure aren't telling us.  Either they do, and they are keeping it secret, or they do not know themselves. In that case, they are like the "wizard" in the land of Oz. He was just operating levers behind a curtain.

     That whole section of the book is good; I re-read it recently. There is also a book I saw by Keynes, on banking matters, in which he begins by saying some persons believe bankers actually do not know what they are doing, and it must be left to others to understand it, but as for Mr. Keynes himself, Lord Keynes (maybe the politically correct version?) says there that this is unkind, and we should give the bankers credit for being smarter than that. I do not know which version of this is correct -- I think these are both possibilities. Especially nowadays, I  think maybe the dumb banker is better off, and therefore more common.

     The basic purpose of all this subversion of economic investigation is to keep truth under wraps (possibly from the elites themselves, as well, which is self-deception to boot!). What you have, then, is a situation where we adopt the stance, the assumptive -- to coin a phrase on my part -- that while on the one hand the purpose of human activity is money, on the other we are forbidden to inquire into what we think we know. You cannot really study it in college. It isn't taught. There is no real "economics." (And there are plenty of books and papers by economists that play around with this, attempting to analyze how their field is possibly structured, what beautiful rules or crystalline structure exists for their supposed "science" etc. There are also some economists as well as many, many outsiders who will admit economics has failed.)
     The conservative establishment establishes our main ideas about the purpose and meaning of life. This is particularly, or specifically, so in social and economic terms. The main philosophical values of a culture are thereby thrust into the forefront of that culture. And ours, at this point in time, is the notion that all institutions, indeed all of men's activities in general, are purely, or basically, or essentially ----- a matter of profit, or of money-making, whatever that actually means. Whether this is "true" or not, or how it is true, is of no interest to them. And that is the End of it. These conservative establishment forces will, at this time in history, transmit the message that even universities "must" exist for the purpose of profit above and prior to any other consideration. And we can try to play along of course. Yet, even if we want to play along and use the RW in our daily struggle for existence, or lives, we cannot. There is no economics department anywhere that studies this. No one actually tries to understand what it is to work or earn a living. No one tries to understand how it is that a person focuses solely on the earning of money, or how such a focus affects one's life. Not in the economics departments, anyway. These places are taken for other uses.
     We want to keep knowledge away from the masses. That's my explanation, of course. Others may disagree. It seems to me as if we want to keep the people stupid. Greider, whom we have already mentioned, and who seems to create catchy book titles, also asked, "Who Will Tell the People?" The answer, for me, is: no one will "tell the people." That is not how it is done.
     The conservative establishment tells us what are to be our themes, our central ideas.
     As guardians of a culture, the conservative establishement has delivered us to exactly nowhere --- to a wasteland.

notes: Mary Evans, "Killing Thinking: the Death of the...."; Continuum; 2005
          William Greider, "Who Will Tell the People..." 1993 and
          "Secrets of the Temple..." 1987
           Gore Vidal: "One of the last great independent thinkers..." (acc. to his publisher)
         ."Vidal is the best all-round American man of letters since
         . Edmund Wilson." -Newsweek 

           (GV is published in the UK by Clairview Books: 4th November 2002

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