Know This: TV binging, immaterial products, Scientology's end, Italian tears, the Kickstarter scam
Who's saying what
The world of work, in the west, has changed. No longer is the material labourer and factory worker the dominant image of what the "worker" is: instead, the immaterial labourer -- the journalist, the lawyer, the artist, the stockbroker, the doctor, the academic, the teacher, the bureaucrat -- is emblematic of our society today. "The products of immaterial production aren’t objects but new social or interpersonal relations," Slavoj Žižek argues, "immaterial production is bio-political, the production of social life." This is not a question of numbers—the banal quest to figure out if there are more in manufacturing than “immaterial” professions—but of what symbolises our current moment. In his article for LRB, Žižek points out the history of this shift and what it means for reimagining critical visions of politics, culture and society today. What's more, he argues, these immaterial labourers are the people unable to secure long-term employment and decent wages today. These people are the ones who have been on the streets recently, at the Occupy Wall Street protests, in Egypt, in London for UK Uncut and so on. As Australia faces public service cuts and employment freezes, similar things may begin happening here.
Are we living with the last generation of Scientologists? Over the past decade, membership has dropped in the US by 20,000. In an article for LRB titled "Religion, grrrr" Rachel Aviv reviews one of the only academic studies of Scientology to date. "A professor of religious studies at Ohio State, Urban is interested in secrecy in religion, and in this book he chronicles the way [founder L. Ron] Hubbard reacted to legal and political challenges to his authority by attempting (largely successfully) to conceal his theories from the public. Had he stuck with his original conception of Dianetics, his practices could have been investigated and judged according to scientific standards. A religion, on the other hand, can turn self-help platitudes into a scarce and privileged resource; criticism can be dismissed as intolerance, or persecution." But the walls are coming down. The internet has made available texts and techniques that previously "higher level" Scientologists would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to access.
Giovanni Tiso is a brilliant writer. And I will read him writing on anything. This week, he is writing about Italian politics. So let's see what he has to say about that. "They call it the government of the technocrats. They say that they take their orders from the market, or from the European Central Bank. Passera, Severini, Terzi, Gnudi, Giarda, Catania, Catricalà, Clini, Profumo, Ornaghi, Fornero. Who had ever heard of these people? They sound like the lineup of a third-division football team, but they are lawyers, economists and academics. They used to work for banks, international regulators, the IMF. They consulted widely and sat on dozens of boards. Then one day in late November they were sworn in as Ministers, at a time when the lack of political affiliation or experience had suddenly become the main qualification for the job of politician." What have these "post political" puppets been doing? Tiso thinks they've cut off their puppetmasters' strings and are now going rogue -- only they do it in the name of "necessary adjustments," rather than "politics." Indeed, Tiso points out, they're actually crying over what they're doing. Crocodile tears: sure, we all have to make sacrifices, but the poorest among Italians and Europeans have to make more than these stooges.
Hands up who has been subjected to pleas from Facebook friends and Twitter followers to contribute to a worthy Kickstarter project? Well, Mr. Teacup doesn't want to hear it. The site is a scam: "Kickstarter is a web hosting company that charges over 6,000% more than a comparable service." And he wants to see it put out of business. "It's not much of an exaggeration to say that Kickstarter is universally loved. Or at least universally liked-on-Facebook, with precisely 170,795 likes as of today, and followed by 457,350 people on Twitter. So coming up with a plan to put it out of business is swimming against the tide to put it mildly." More than just being a scam, it's hokum served up in a platitudinous way: "What this amounts to is progressive cultural politics married with neoliberal capitalist economic policy, but opposed to the bad (and boring!) corporate capitalism and instead favoring the dynamic, exciting capitalism of innovation and creative destruction. This new collaborative, cooperative ethic promises to bring social change, and posits itself as a threat to the capitalist status quo. This is based on a naive analysis of the world where greedy, selfish, power-hungry people build institutions that embody their corrupt values. Once we get the right people in charge, things will be different. Only they aren’t. Charging 60 times the actual cost of providing a service by skimming a percentage off financial transactions is the very definition of parasitic capitalism."
There's been a lot of attention given to a post this week asking about the gaming community's "gay question". An author on Australian computer site Atomic asked why the slang and slurs in gaming communities default to calling disliked things and people "gay." He argues that "it’s a powerful slur because in the minds of the straight male gamers who coined the term, being gay is just about the worst thing they could think of." What's more, because of the relative power of those straight male gamers, there's an endless amount of blaming the victim should someone raise a critical voice about the use of the "gay" slur. Inevitably, after this being pointed out in the article, the very same thing kicks off in the comments section below the article. Perhaps homophobes can't read more than a page of text before shouting "GHEY!"
Vanity Fair has prepared a double serve of Guantánamo shamefulness this week, one decade on from its entry into use in the US "War on Terror." Firstly, a detailed, chronological oral history of the camp's activity since it opened, served over ten pages of fragmented vignettes. And then, when you're done with that miserable accounting, portraits of 16 released inmates, including Australians David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib, wherever they now live their lives.
Economics is the lingua franca of everyday politics and media debate today. Yet few people -- inside or outside -- understand the debates and battles within economics as a discipline. In day-to-day coverage, we get very little sense that one set of ideas has come to dominate over another -- that today's "common sense" is different from a previous era and what will come tomorrow. Indeed, even that it could be different tomorrow. Worse, the bone-dry explanations run off for students in commerce degrees suggest a rationalist science with little scope for critique or innovation. Yannis Varoufakis is a Greek economist who has no truck with the way such an economics simplifies and reduces human behaviour. After writing a famed, take-no-prisoner['s-dilemma] book on the simplistic idiocy of game theory and orthodox economics, he is now on a quest to bring economics to the people via books for a general readership and many, many media appearances. The European Crisis has proved useful for this. On his highly-trafficked blog, he has begun a four-part series, the purpose of which "is to discuss the ways in which economic complexity has been misrepresented, denied and mishandled by economists, financiers and politicians. Part A began by focusing on the problematic application of the analytic-synthetic method to socio-economic interactions. It claims that economists have, for a while now, pursued an agenda that denies economic complexity its true nature in order to maximise their own discursive power both in the great Universities and in the corridors of power (both public and corporate). In the next instalments we shall see how the economists’ ultra-complex Complexity Denial has contributed significantly to the policies and institutional design that were responsible for the Crash of 2008 and the eurozone’s inexorable disintegration." Bracing stuff.
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