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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Location: Northwest Arkansas, United States

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Vache Folle on Fish! Philosophy and "Negativity"

The mega-church preacher and author Joel Osteen, whose soporific and mesmerizing voice is almost irresistible, preaches joyful obedience. I sometimes catch Osteen as I am channel surfing, and I find him fascinating. I do a pretty good Osteen impression, if I say so myself. If I remember right, he preached this weekend: “You don’t have to go [to] work; you get to go to work.” He had a whole litany of things that we should be grateful for and see as privileges rather than burdens. Mrs Vache Folle piped up with her addition: “You don’t have to have head lice; you get to have head lice.”

On one level, Osteen is right. We should be less ungrateful and more appreciative of our many blessings. We should make the best of our situation until we can change it. But it is too easy to fall into the trap of condemning all criticism and complaint and discontent as subversive and selfish.

I recall Bill Gothard's program in my youth in which I was instructed that any unhappiness I felt was a manifestation of selfishness, that I was responsible for my own feelings and should neither complain nor try to change things. My own pastor used the word "bullshit" to describe how he felt about this teaching.

In the West Indies, folks often referred to the concept of “negativity” as something that impeded progress. It was “negativity” that caused initiatives to fail, and one could sometimes successfully shut down criticism by playing the “negativity” card.

Incidentally, I wonder why it is that management is (implicitly) exempt from all the new-agey "just accept it and get your head in the right place" vibes of Fish! Philosophy. When they send down an angry memo about this or that aspect of how we do our work being unacceptable, why don't we get to tell them "Hey, you can't do anything about the way we do our jobs, but you can choose your attitude toward it"? The answer, obviously, is that we're dealing with a one-way power relationship. They're the ones who get to make "change"; we're the ones who have to "deal with it." They don't need to have a "good attitude" toward the bad shit that's done to them, because they're the ones doing all the bad shit to other people. That's why there's such a close correlation between the appearance of those first Fish! banners and the beginning of downsizing, layoffs, and other unpleasantness. When you see a Fish! Philosophy banner, it's like being told you've got "a real purty mouth": a sign that something really unpleasant is about to follow.

Also incidentally, it's a pretty jarring effect to see all those "don't worry, be happy" Fish! banners all over the place combined with the general atmosphere of fear, reminiscent of a Stalinist purge, that accompanies an open-ended period of layoffs. It's kind of Twilight Zonish: "It's good that management did those horrible things--it's real good!"


Blogger Joe Crow said...

Same reason the Greeks called the Fates "the Kindly Ones". Same reason the Celts called the Danoine Sidhe "the Fair Folk". Same reason folks worship gods. Because the little people are afraid of what will happen if the big people find out what the little people really think about them. And eventually the little people start to believe what they've been saying all these years. That's how governments form out of banditry.

May 29, 2006 2:27 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lenny said...

time to play: Go, fish. does anybody have any sixes?

mrs vf is one of the wisest women in the world. it is time to invest in our own and start using the wealth of knowledge to invest in ability to survive. complementary mutualism appears to me to be the proper means, but the journey doesn't depend on the path.

you are welcome to crosslink the zone for those scientifically minded people who prefer their religion green.

May 29, 2006 7:36 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

For the life of me, I can't understand how one group of people ever gets to say, "You guys do the work; we'll let you know if you're doing it right."

The capitalist system requires a large degree of passivism and sublimation of 'negative' ideas from all those who buy into it as non-managerialists.

Personally, I would love to see all of its defenders get their few perks/benefits whittled away, as has been the trend as of late. Maybe it'll sink in then what suckers they are.

May 31, 2006 4:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

These sort of situations are what make honest people realize that the system is rigged against honest people in favor of legalized predators, those with legal charters to steal from others. These situations are what cause people to forsake honest trade for illegal theft and mayhem. It's what forces social power to go underground to form underground governments, militias, and codes of silent solidarity. When equally free traders are outlawed in favor of their plundering tormentors of political power, free social power disappears from institutional society into secret vernacular social spaces.

This is what originally caused the formation of the mafia, as a secret counter force to the official ruling plunderers of Sicily. MAFIA is an acronym that meant death to all French (Bourbons) and foreigners.

Honest, peaceful people will rarely successfully use honest, peaceful means to win against legally sanctioed predatory plunderers. Ghandiesque efforts only work in a society becoming more civil and humane, not one decaying away from civility.

Chris Toto

June 02, 2006 10:26 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Dr. Lenny,

Sounds like you're saying mutualism by any other name is still mutualism. Or to paraphrase Huey Long, when mutualism comes to America, it'll be called [what?]...


The people at the top of the pyramids don't know what good work is. They're almost as isolated from the actual production process as Gosplan. The people engaged in the actual work, who have what Hayek called "distributed idiosyncratic knowledge" about the process, could tell them how to streamline things and make it more efficient. But the people who run the organization instead try to cut costs by laying off entire categories of productive personnel, or imposing arbitrary cuts and dumping more work on the survivors, or otherwise approaching it from a line-item perspective. They're as clueless as the Congressional budget cutters who were unable to find a "waste, fraud and abuse" line-item.

The people doing the work have no incentive to make things more efficient unless they benefit from the efficiency gains. And the way the product is divvied up now, that's pretty unlikely. Much more likely that the CEO will just order a massive layoff, force a speedup on the survivors, and give himself a big bonus for increasing shareholder equity.


Nice to see you here. I've got a post in the work based on that link on federal land policy you linked on DFC Talk.

June 02, 2006 10:53 PM  
Anonymous Wild Pegasus said...

If bosses really knew as little as you think they do, then it would behoove shareholders to abolish Offices and set up listeners to hear workers' ideas instead. This doesn't exist even in a solid minority of companies. Are shareholders just that ignorant about their real interests, or are workers not as knowledgeable as you claim?

June 03, 2006 9:54 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


I think part of the answer lies in the degree of autonomy management has from shareholders, thanks to the corporate form. The managers, for obvious reasons don't see it as in their interests to make themselves obsolete.

The promotion of size abouve what would prevail in a free market also contributes to the situation. The problem is that, when an organization reaches a certain size, the transaction costs are such that the cost for those at the top to aggregate the distributed information necessary to run things efficiently is greater than the efficiency gains.

Another part of it is that, under conditions of limited competition, it's a reasonable strategic decision to do things the same inefficient way as your competitors and stay in business, rather than upset the apple cart and introduce the danger of destructive competition.

Finally, to some extent the shareholders *do* have a view of the world that's been shaped by the managerial/corporate transformation of capitalism. The holdings of institutional shareholders, obviously, are managed by the same kinds of bureaucracies that manage the corporations they own stock in. And the really big plutes, the billionaires described by people like Mills and Domhoff, who actually have a large degree of influence on the corporation's policy are themselves enmeshed in a culture of interlocking bureaucracies.

June 04, 2006 11:10 AM  

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