cj#910> re: “THE NEW CULTURE” — idea-change vs. structural change


Richard Moore

Dear cj,

The messages below arose out of the "New Dawn readers" thread, but they
circle back to the previous "New Culture" thread.  I'll defer my own
comments until after Mark and Joe have their say...


Date: Tue, 09 Mar 1999 19:17:37 -0600
To: •••@••.•••, •••@••.•••
From: Mark Douglas Whitaker <•••@••.•••>
Subject: re: "New Dawn' comments on comments

Joe Ferguson wrote:
  >X's stark pessimism is disturbing enough to make me re-examine my
  >retreat from involvement because my marriage has crumbled.  I think X
  >is right about what humanity _has_ been
  >> i believe [the above] because the human race as a whole is an easily
  >> herded mob who just want to get on with their lives
  >but I have some optimism that we can evolve or develop into something
  >more.  Maybe I've just watched too many Star Treks, where the premise
  >is exactly that humankind did survive this era and become a better race.

        As long as you realize that you are watching artificial drama
instead of history.

        Baldly, I feel that you should pinch yourself and see that you are
watching a drama that is popular because it offers simple rosy solutions, so
you can get back to your life as you mentioned above as something part of
the herd mentality. Star Trek is only part of the bread and circuses of high
modernism, social escapism.

        If you agree that is where humanity has been, then what do you see
that suddenly changes the entire inputs into history at this moment, that
changes your mind that we are living in a different era?

  >Actually, I've seen some really good philosophy in other science fiction.
  >For example, the hero in "Red Mars" (by Kim Stanley Robinson) speaks of
  >the notion that each of us should live our lives in a context of seven
  >generations before and seven generations hence.  The whole book's
  >political perspective on the role the huge conglomerates in the
  >exploitation of Mars is completely in line with CJ's perspective on
  >their role in the exploitation of Earth.

  >Y's questions suggest he or she is looking for a _system_ to fix our
  >problems.  I think this is misguided.  I don't think any system will
  >fix the problems, but rather a modified model of human behavior/nature/
  >attitude where we coalesce into interconnected communities, accepting
  >leadership and leaders as our strengths and limits suggest, based on the
  >facts that the stakes are worth it and that we can make a difference.

        I feel you are being naive, and perhaps justifying your political
apathy (that you did mention above, think about it), to set up a dichotomy
between changes in belief ( your 'good') and looking for a system ( your
'bad'). So you want to simplify your life. Fine. Yet realize that the world
still is going on outside of science fiction philosophy. The second word is
'fiction' after all. Let's get some perspective here.

        Idea based changes AND structural changes are important. Otherwise,
IDEAS DIE in the second generation.

        For me, the mob effect is simply the route you are describing:
thinking that changes in belief will get us anywhere without a model of
social action as well to preserve and foster these beliefs. You mention that
you would like to see 'us' 'coalesce' into interconnected communities. I
find it interesting that you chose a verb that certainly is without any
dirty human agency involved. "Coalesce." You simply see it 'happening,' like
something you can sit back and watch. I know of several people in Acorn
communities and I can tell you that you would likely balk at the work they
put into those communities. If they waited for something to 'coalesce'
nothing would happen. Plus, let's say for instance what do you see happening
when you are unable to transfer your 'good' beliefs into the next
generation? Who's fault is that?

        You rather lightly hinted that you found that thinking seven
generations ahead was a good policy. Well, then. How do you feel you are
going to accomplish this transference of your 'good' changed beliefs to
others without some sort of plan to integrate your experiences and values
into subsequent generations?

         What is crucial is that we realize that this desire/retreat to have
'a change in belief' is far from a victory charge.  Simply because a few
people have changed  beliefs matters little in the scheme of things,
especially if they come by their satisfaction so easily in a small circle of

        And besides, there has been research that has found that there a
wide gap between peoples stated beliefs and the social actions and
situations they find themselves.

  >I think your reply to 'Y' straddles the two notions of "silver-bullet
  >system" versus a worldwide community-based movement.  Clearly you are
  >moving toward the latter in your philosophy:

        A worldwide community movement will only go so far before bleed off
from it sets up a formalizing homeostatic relationship with what they 'left
behind.' Then what? You realize everything you are saying/proposing was said
ONLY 30 YEARS AGO in the 1960's. And look at the world presently. Was that
optimism of 'a novel outlook' and 'communitarian' living durable? Was this
anything else except the herd mentality incarnate, to wish for such an
individualized solution--that it only requires changing one's mind, sorting
one's trash, buying a consumer car, etc.? Belief change, as an 'easy way'
out, will always be more popular. It's easier. Yet it changes nothing.
Actually, it perpetuates the 'system' because you have effectively dropped
out. Was this optimism of 'a novel outlook' anything more than individualism
restated? What actually changed? It fostered disco eventually if I remember
correctly as people got bored that simply changing one's mind was enough.

        To restate, belief change is important, as long as it yields a
social solidarity for some type of social action. Yet belief change that
merely makes you and satisfies you with being a consumer of more sold
individualized solutions--well that's twice as worse. And how is that
qualitatively different?

        If there is anything that is remembered from this message, keep in
mind that belief-only changes last one generation. Yours.
        Then it's over.

        Social structures transmit patterns of beliefs. If anyone is serious
in 'thinking seven generations' their thoughts of posterity fizzle out after
one generation if they neglect social structural issues.

Date: Wed, 10 Mar 1999 07:15:08 -0800
From: •••@••.••• (Joe Ferguson)
To: •••@••.•••, •••@••.•••, •••@••.•••
Subject: re: "New Dawn' comments on comments

Hi Mark,

Thanks for the insight.  Last night I heard a Noam Chomsky recording
that, along with your critique really does make my post seem silly,
naive, and I guess most importantly, unrealistic or even irresponsible,
rejecting the structures needed to pass social progress to future
generations.  I guess the point should have been that structure is not
enough without some improvement in ourselves.  Else we'll be victims of
the "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss" syndrome.

I'll try to keep listening and learning.  Chomsky's talk was about
control of the public mind.  He stated flat out that there is an
information war that is and has been being waged openly by the
privileged classes against working people and the poor, and he
provided references to substantiate that.

I see otherwise intelligent people thinking they are informed about
the world because the people who spoon-feed us information have the
ability to put a camera anywhere and the wealth to put them everywhere.
These people forget that data can be arranged to support any theory
and/or they are unaware of the above mentioned information war.

I need to try to get a copy of Chomsky's talk or see if he has a book
on that subject written in the style he was speaking in (i.e., layman's
terms).  Most of his writing I've found has been less understandable,
at least by me.

Ah, so CJ, please discount the value of my previous, naive post.  I
certainly didn't mean to derail progress towards inventing new
social structures with my wishful thinking!

- Joe


Dear Joe and Mark,

Thanks to both of you for some very thoughtful comments.

  >belief-only changes last one generation. Yours.
  >        Then it's over.

There's a lot of wisdom in that brief statement.  The change-of-mood in the
sixties felt so powerful that it _seemed all would be swept before it...
listen again to Dylan's "The Times, They are a'Changin'".  Related to this,
I ran across a little book by Philip E. Slater with the curious title "The
Pursuit of Loneliness", published in 1970.  I found it to offer a very
perceptive analysis of changing social attitudes (primarily focusing on the
USA) in the postwar era, especially as it related to the activism of the
sixties.  He took it for granted that a "new culture" had arisen and that
it would become dominant.  Here is one of his threads (p. 112):

    This tendency of human societies to keep alternative
    patterns alive has many biological analogues.  One of these
    is _neoteny -- the evolutionary process in which foetal or
    juvenile characteristics are retained in the adult animal.
    Body characteristics that have long had only transitional
    relevance are exploited in response to altered environmental
    circumstances (thus many human features resemble foetal
    traits of apes).  I have not chosen this example at random,
    for much of the new culture is implicitly and explicitly
    "neotenous" in a cultural sense: behavior, values, and
    life-styles formerly seen as appropriate only to childhood
    are being retained into adulthood as a counterforce to the
    old culture.

    I pointed out earlier, for example, that children are taught
    a set of values in earliest childhood, -- cooperation,
    sharing, equalitarianism -- which they begin to unlearn as
    they enter school, wherein competition, invidiousness,
    status differentiation, and ethnocentrism prevail.  By the
    time they enter adult life children are expected to have
    largely abandoned the value assumptions with which their
    social lives began.  But for affluent, protected,
    middle-class children this process is slowed down, while
    intellectual development is speeded up, so that the earlier
    childhood values can become integrated into a conscious,
    adult value system centered around social justice.

This rings true with my own personal experience of the sixties.  It is what
I was taught in childhood about "Truth, Justice, and the American Way" that
enraged me about the Vietnam War, and caused me to reject the kind of
desperate materialism my parents seemed to be trapped by.  My generation
wasn't rejecting American values, as we perceived them, but rather
demanding that they be honored in deed.

Slater then goes on to discuss some of the problems of the new culture:

    The most glaring split in the new culture is that which
    separates militant activism from the traits we generally
    associate with the hippie movement. ...

    Militant activism is task-oriented, and hence partakes of
    certain old-culture traits such as postponement of
    gratification, preoccupation with power, and so on.  to be a
    competent revolutionary one must possess a certain tolerance
    for the "Protestant Ethic" virtues, and the activists' moral
    code is a stern one indeed.  the hippie ethic, on the other
    hand, is a "salvation now" approach.  it is thus more
    radical, since it remains relatively uncontaminated with
    old-culture values.  It is also far less realistic, since it
    ignores the fact that the existing culture provides a
    totally antagonistic milieu in which the hippie movement
    must try to survive in a state of highly vulnerable
    parasitic dependence.  The activists can reasonably say that
    the flower people are absurd to pretend that the revolution
    as already occurred, for such pretense leads only to severe
    victimization by the old culture.  The flower people can
    reasonably retort that a revolution based to so great a
    degree on old-culture premises is lost before it is begun,
    for even if the militants are victorious they will have been
    corrupted by the process of winning.

In fact the movements of the sixties did not result in sufficient
structural changes to allow the new culture to survive "victimization by
the old culture".  Brian Hill has told us that the new culture is rising
again, partly from seeds left over from the sixties, but will it have any
more hope of survival (let alone dominance) than it did in the sixties?  If
we can't translate our visions into structural changes in our socieites, as
Mark suggests, then the answer must surely be "No".

Slater goes on (p. 117) to articulate a central problem of the sixties
movements that is still true of our movements today:

    ...new-culture enterprises often collapse because of a
    dogmatic unwillingness to subordinate the whim of the
    individual to the needs of the group.  This problem is rarely
    faced honestly by new-culture adherents, who seem unaware of
    the conservatism involved in their attachment to
    individualistic principles...  The new culture seeks to
    create a tolerable society within the context of persistent
    American strivings -- utopianism, the pursuit of happiness.
    But nothing will change until individualism is assigned a
    subordinate place in the American value system -- for
    individualism lies at the core of the old culture, and a
    prepotent individualism is not a viable foundation for any
    society in a nuclear age.

Not only does excessive individualism represent a continutation of the old
culture, but it makes us vulnerable to divide-and-conquer tactics by the
old-culture establishment.  This same problem arises at a macro level, that
is with respect to single-cause movements.  A single-cause focus can be
seen as excessive individualism arising at the level of groups.  Just as
individuals can be pre-occupied with their own "trip", or their own
economic success, so can movements be pre-occupied with their own narrow
objectives.  Both individuals and groups then lose their political
effectiveness as their efforts cancel one another out in the bigger scheme
of things.  I, and I believe Slater, are not suggesting that individualism
is a bad thing, nor do we wish to downplay the central importance of
individual initiative.  But I would suggest that a lot more weight needs to
be given to such principles as "We're all in this together", and "Either we
all hang together, or surely we will all hang separately".