Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Groovies in motion and at rest

These two posts were originally read on Local.org Radio Blog on KWMR  (http://kwmr.org/show/281) and are reflections upon the American Groovy, a privately educated Imperial Idiot coming in many varieties. The most refined and exalted of those is, no doubt, the Bay Area Groovy. I note in passing that a rare subspecies, the West Marin Groovy, is unsurpassed in pure copper-bottomed groovitude.   

Groovies in motion...

For those wealthy Americans with an empathetic concern for Africa – usually highly romantic in their conception of history and purpose – there is charity adventure travel: Stanford grads spending two weeks at a time studying the Meerkats of Africa or setting up solar panels in Kenyan villages before returning home to post photos documenting their exotic humanity sans frontières to the websites containing their internet identities, their post-ideological public selves. Aside from the natural wincing their 'Orientalism with a human face' causes me, what is wrong with African charity? So what, one solar panel more is a worthy thing (and even I admit that Meerkats are cute). 

Take these two statistics: the West gives 50-80 billion dollars in charitable aid to Africa every year, and in the opposite direction 500-800 billion dollars of African wealth is transferred by African businesses and government officials to off-shore Western banks, every year. Essentially, for every one dollar we give in charity, the West takes ten.  And that process of capital being dislocated and then reconcentrated in the West is just part of the massive transfer of wealth from Africa that is constantly occurring.  

I met a professor who raises money for libraries in villages in sub-Saharan Africa.  He told me that it was wrong to discourage or defame charitable giving, that what it helped regardless of the larger context of globalization.  This is the essence of the post-ideological, post-historical mindset – he is saying that we can operate independent of reality, because reality is beyond our control. Regardless of the hypocrisy of American's offering advice on primary education, I think he was wrong to exclude the context – along the lines of Oscar Wilde's criticism of charity:

 ...it is much more easy to have sympathy with suffering than it is to have sympathy with thought. Accordingly, with admirable, though misdirected intentions, they [the givers of charity] very seriously and very sentimentally set themselves to the task of remedying the evils that they see. But their remedies do not cure the disease: they merely prolong it. Indeed, their remedies are part of the disease.

They try to solve the problem of poverty, for instance, by keeping the poor alive; or, in the case of a very advanced school, by amusing the poor.

But this is not a solution: it is an aggravation of the difficulty. The proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible. And the altruistic virtues have really prevented the carrying out of this aim. Just as the worst slave-owners were those who were kind to their slaves, and so prevented the horror of the system being realised by those who suffered from it, and understood by those who contemplated it, so, in the present state of things in England, the people who do most harm are the people who try to do most good; and at last we have had the spectacle of men who have really studied the problem and know the life – educated men who live in the East End – coming forward and imploring the community to restrain its altruistic impulses of charity, benevolence, and the like. They do so on the ground that such charity degrades and demoralises. They are perfectly right.

... and at rest

I am conflicted over the present obsession with the sensual enjoyment of food.  I do prefer good food, the quality of flavor and production (organic, non-GMO, etc.), but those who focus upon the consumption of this food – whose price is indicative not only of the cost of production, but the market it serves as well – indulge in this sensual experience because they are simultaneously wealthy and convinced that they have no power to change the world.  They seek pleasure out of unconscious despair. They are perfectly adjusted to the deep cynicism of our age. In this, the lovers of great and expensive cheese are deeply contemptible and to be treated as fools, the traditionalists of no tradition.  

The industrial world has existed barely 150 years. The dislocation of the population from farm to city undermined the mores and traditions of these new industrial men and women. The dynamics of community, family, love, politics and labor were in a state of radical flux. It gave rise to many of the political ideals we still hold.  But because of the attendant uncertainty of this new city life, the figure of the liar and dissembler found a boundless new stage on which to perform, while the standards for the criticism of their arts disappeared.  A butcher sells rotten meat; the old enforcer, the collective judgment of the village – voodoo death to the transgressor – is gone; in its place the police, the anonymous men from another neighborhood, are open to bribery. And this new level of cynicism and mistrust in the society gave rise to a reaction – political movements who sought to use government to reestablish village law. 

But the problem of centralization gave the world an irresistible indifference to justice, and as the peasants and laborers attempted to reassert the law, the Second World War began.  In the wake of this catastrophe, touching nationalism, fascism and communism – all political ideals, all conceptions of justice, were lost to cynicism, sometimes called realism; while born of centralization and industrial empire, it embedded itself squarely in the mind of the individual.  Cynicism is the parasite that came to control its host – Western man. 

Our terror at the consequences of political ideas was institutionalized; it is built into the dominant post-war economic philosophies – man as a lone selfish actor strategizing against all other men for survival.  This, bolstered by the pop gene theory of later day social Darwinians, is the present consensus view of man.  For my generation, say everyone from 20-40 years old, this has been wholly internalized, the history lost.  So we now take for granted that politics are irrelevant and the economy is unchangeable.  If we are rich, we focus on what we are unconsciously certain is the last meaningful realm of human activity, pleasure.  Pass the cheese.