Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Thorstein Veblen

Thorstein Veblen

This is some stuff I wrote about Veblen a while back. I'll come back and edit it later. I thought the discussion today was really interesting. Veblen may have been a tad bit pessimistic, but his works can really wake a person up. I had an acquaintance once that refused to buy a very expensive shirt because he said they had started selling the same brand at a discount store. I believe this situation fits Veblen's description of envy quite perfectly. I still find it hard to believe that everyone in the leisure class is out to dominate everyone in the working class, but then again it is a dog eat dog world. I'll add more to this later.

Veblen only recognized two classes. Capitalism is evil according to him and those who are in power are there because they stole. He outlined pointless consumption and believed in specialization.

His Beliefs

o Division of labor is simplistic as it occurs on a fundamental level between the working and the leisure class. Further division is irrelevant.

o Specialization of labor on the level of the leisure class is focused on pursuit of war, politics, sorts, learning and clergy duties

o Specialization of labor on the level of the working class is mere “outgrowth of what is classed as woman’s work in the primitive barbarian community” taken to a larger scale.

o Industrialization is not perceived as the coercion of men by men, but men taking over the non-human environment and using it to their advantage.

o Leisure class is the concentration of evil in human nature as it is cultivated from the long-standing tradition of people who hunt and compete, thus, are oriented toward coercion and destruction.

o The division of labor between work and leisure predisposes society to a predatory, rather than peaceful existence.

o Consumption exists in two forms – a less intrusive and prevalent – consumption of food, shelter and clothing, which is required for sustenance and conspicuous consumption, the fruit of the class separation, is the consumption of goods that emphasizes one’s belongingness to one or the other social segments.

o Veblen believed capitalist promote mindless consumerism

o He also believed that anyone not in the leisure class wants to become wealthy.

o Social hierarchy is dependent on the grades and quantity of consumption.

Industry (drudgery) – effort that goes to create a new thing, with a new purpose given it by the fashioning had of its maker out of passive (brute) material.
Usually females – what is not good enough for the man to do.

Exploit – so far as it results in an outcome useful to the agent, is the conversion to his own ends of energies previously directed to some other end by another agent.
Usually males – more readily inclined to self assertion and aggression

Monday, February 23, 2009


Well it looks like I'm a little behind, so I've got some catching up to do. To start off, I'm going to list everything I know about Durkheim generically. I'll elaborate further on the outline I've created soon. I find topic of suicide particularly interesting.

Emile Durkheim

Durkheim was a capitalist who observed religion in society. He believed that “Religion is the glue that holds society together. He is known as the father of Sociology and he had some big shoes to fill being the first man to attempt to explain the entire world.

His Beliefs

• Sui Generis – an anticipated consequence of human agency; society has properties that an individual does not have.

• Mechanical Solidarity – Social structure is based on the individuals’ similarities and is dependent on rituals and traditions (Old school society before any type of industrial revolution).

• Organic Solidarity – is based on the interdependence of individuals in industrialized societies. People rely on one another to survive like a symbiotic organism.

• This largely depends on the complex division of labor, which stemmed from the industrial revolution. Everyone has a place in society. There will always be janitors and low men on the totem pole.

• Social Facts – are pre-existing conditions of human agency that exist outside individuals. They are constraints of individual behaviors as they are the ways of acting and thinking (ex. The Bible).

• Division of Labor – the separation and specialization of society.
• Societal means of coping with extensive social transformations.

• Integration – Society’s ability to make its members into its functional parts through making the system of norms, values, and beliefs known and unified to all.
• A basic common way of thinking bonds people and gives them a place in society.

• Religion – The means for providing the meaning of life, unity, structure and control.

• Anomie – A condition where social and/or moral norms are confused, unclear, or simply not present.
• A lack of norms leads to deviant behaviors.
• Durkheim believed industrialization promoted anomie.

• Anomie is some serious stuff. It can lead to suicide because people need to feel integrated.

• Suicide – can result from too much integration or anomie.

• Types of Suicide:

• Egoistic Suicide – comes from too little integration.

• Altruistic Suicide – comes from too much integration (Ex. suicide bombers).

• Anomic Suicide – comes from the breaking down of norms (loosing in faith in what you believe).

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Reaction to the Communist Manifesto

"The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interests of the immense majority."

In our capitalistic society the 'immense majority' stands by as the rich get richer and poor get poorer.

"The essential condition for the existence, and for the sway of the bourgeois class, is the formation and augmentation of capital; the condition for capital is wage-labour. Wage-labour rests exclusively on competition between labourers."

The proletariat fight for jobs and commodities that the bourgeoisie allocate. Are resources really scarce in the United States/the world or are they just unequally distributed?

"At this stage, therefore, the proletarians do not fight their enemies, but the enemies of their enemies, the remnants of absolute monarchy, the landowners, the non-industrial bourgeois, the petty bourgeoisie. Thus the whole historical movement is concentrated in the hands of the bourgeoisie; every victory so obtained is a victory for the bourgeoisie."

Brand name rivals come to mind and the car industry. People on assembly lines work harder to out produce, out sell, and out rank their rivals. In the long run, who really benefits? Who is exploited. Stock piles of cars currently sit wasting away because they will not sell.

What I find most interesting about the document is not the advice given, but the well thought out responses to criticism. As soon as anyone mentions Marx in the public sphere unruly communism seems to be a common association.

He addresses concerns that communism will eliminate religion, morality, laws, bourgeois marriage, bourgeois family, etc. I laughed at the idea that: "But you Communists would introduce community of women, screams the whole bourgeoisie in chorus." This is an argument against communism I've never heard before, but obviously Marx had a counter to it.

I'll expand on this more later. It's hard to know where to start with so many ideas.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Social Power?

"What is the nature of social power? It would help if you consider this by considering your own definition of social power and why you either do or do not want more."

To break this question down, I think one needs first to define power.

"At the most general level,
power is the ability to influence the behavior of others to get the outcomes one wants."

The amount of power a person has can be determined in many ways, but in a capitalistic society monetary worth seems to be the most prevalent measure. For Marx, the ability to own land and private property helps determine the distribution of power. Power is passed down from generation to generation, giving people that have never worked a day in their lives authority they cannot even begin to comprehend.

Of course I'm completely ignoring the power of influence, but for the most part money drives our society. For example, without extraordinary amounts of money would American companies have such a profound impact on globalization?

Are McDonald's and Disney innately popular, or is it more reasonable to guess that their advertising ploys and ruthless marketing have made the companies multinational conquerors?

Social power is the ability to manipulate society and the people within it without rebellion. Disney does a great job of making their products "magical" or "good" to the point that no one questions the motives of the company. Disney doesn't care about children or their livelihoods, or accurate representations of race, etc. Disney cares about profit. In spite of this, Disney movies and products are primary socializing agents for thousands of children.

On the other hand, social power can influence and change the structure of society. Influence allows a person to gain power and achieve their goals. In this sense, I would love to have more social power. Leaders like Martin Luther King used their social power to change how society functions for the better. With an actual agenda, social power can be used to help better people’s lives. In the hands of an emotionless psychotic organization hell bent on profit, social power can ruin people, cultures, and general well being.
Would you like fries with that?

I'll post more later.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Alienation and Marx

1) What is "alienation" and what do you know about it at an experiential level (have you experienced/seen/felt it) and does reading Marx make you think or feel about alienation differently?

Alienation is the "The process whereby the worker is made to feel foreign to the products of his/her own labor. The creation of commodities need not lead to alienation and can, indeed, be highly satisfying: one pours one's subjectivity into an object and one can even gain enjoyment from the fact that another in turn gains enjoyment from our craft. In capitalism, the worker is exploited insofar as he does not work to create a product that he then sells to a real person; instead, the proletariat works in order to live, in order to obtain the very means of life, which he can only achieve by selling his labor to a capitalist for a wage (as if his labor were itself a property that can be bought and sold). The worker is alienated from his/her product precisely because s/he no longer owns that product, which now belongs to the capitalist who has purchased the proletariat's labor-power in exchange for exclusive ownership over the proletariat's products and all profit accrued by the sale of those products."

I'm sure the workers in both these pictures gain some sort of joy from creating their brooms, but the factory workers would be considered alienated by Marx. They are easily replaced working on an assembly line, and they are most likely paid the bare minimum to get by. The Amish worker is not alienated by society as he is the only means of production and is not being exploited by a bourgeoisie class. He's probably making brooms for people in his community that he sees every day.

On the personal level I think everyone is alienated by capitalistic society at some point in their lives. For example, anyone who has worked a job they did not like just so they can pay the bills has experienced exploitation to some degree. I remember working for the Knoxville Racetrack in High School at the concession stand. It was one of my first jobs, and I actually liked what I was doing. My friends and I made cooking overpriced food into a game by counting the number of mullets each night, playing cards on break, sneaking up from the kitchen to watch the races etc. I took pride in my work and it was a lot of fun, but in retrospect, we busted our asses and made the racetrack a ridiculous amount of money, yet we all walked away knowing we could be easily replaced by any other kid who needed a minimum wage job.

If you don't know what a sprint car is, you should check out this website, and you'll see where I'm coming from.

2) What of the Marx readings in Tucker did you find really hit home; that is, what had a strong and significant impact on you and what parts have left you a bit fuzzy as to what was going on and what could possibly been the point? (Note: it is not impossible that the same reading may contain both of these elements!).

There are many things in the Marx reading that hit home with me.  Alienation seems to be a little bit confusing still, but I think I get the basic concept.   I find myself asking how someone cannot be alienated by their environment in some way.   Even without money conflict exists in society.   If not monetary value, wont human beings rank themselves in the same ways as animals?  

The strong and dominate would prevail, and not necessarily do what is best for the masses.  I guess my main question is, even if the proletariat over throw the ruling hegemonic class, then what?  Also, how does the revolution start?  I know that it's supposed to begin with the proletariat, but without knowledge how will the uprising begin?  The bourgeoisie have access to education, and intelligence can be used to manipulate the under educated. 

I'm reminded of the scene in the matrix where Neo is asked what pill to take.  I think it's red for actual reality or blue to continue living in the Matrix.  If given the choice, would the American public want to wake up from their false consciousness and fight for equality, or would they rather just continue living in the current state?  Where's the revolution?  What will it take?