cj#911> more challenging thoughts re: THE NEW CULTURE


Richard Moore

Dear cj,

I've got some good stuff on other topics queued up, but I don't want to
leave this thread while good people continue to send in well-considered
ideas written-up especially for us.  David Cameron's piece is below, along
with a very strong essay by Mark Whitaker, sparked by the "individualism"
thread of our previous posting.  (I wonder if I still have my copy of
Riesner's "Individualism Reconsidered"... or if it would be relevant.)

One of things in my queue is a concise write-up of Mark's own CDI scheme,
which I'm eager to post.  After all, I was one of the goads who pestered
him into condensing his presentation and making it comprehensible to us
impatient electronic-paced mortals.

But before that, I'm hoping Brian Hill comes back with some expansion on
his "sixties is coming back" theme (pardon the over-simplification).  Just
because his idealistic-sounding first-draft met with some valid skepticism
does not mean he's not on to something.  I happen to know Brian is
well-aware of the need to build new structures, and in fact he's doing some
very exciting things with revolving micro-investment schemes, the pursuit
of useful legal precedents re/ cannabis, developing small-scale
manufacturing techniques, and much more.

regards to all,

Date: Fri, 12 Mar 1999 22:25:27 -0300
To: •••@••.•••
From: David Cameron/Nancy Sherwood <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Re: cj#910> re: "THE NEW CULTURE" -- idea-change vs. structural

Dear cj, I enjoy the historic range and analysis in this thread very much.
Having been a hippie all my life I've tried it all-communal living,
back-to-the-land, co-op this, co-op that....

Often the antagonistic milieux has forced me out of something that sort of
worked on an individualistic or small group basis. For instance, until the
inflation of the early 80's, what we needed to live very simply and
healthily as family cost very little & was met by working at a "job"(even
that was a co-op, the first retail crafts co-op in Nova Scotia), only one
day a week. The rest of the time was spent making wonderful art, raising a
lot of our own food, foraging, beach-combing, visiting/playing with friends
and raising our delightful child. The sharp rise in prices for essentials,
mostly for a beat-up truck & gas and taxes, knocked us out of that life.

Like many, we've tried using what is "business-as-usual" to our own ends.
That road rattles our teeth. The contradictions and compromises are
eventually just too expensive to our souls. Even the art world is an
absolute nightmare!

We have spent a LOT of time in group processes and
looking/thinking/researching about ecovillages & other intentional
communities. That now grown-up child of the woods has even explored the
Rainbow Family (improvised short-term community) and brought home the
lessons to be found there.

We've learned a lot. Getting/staying out of the box gets harder & harder.
The simple life costs more & more as land & taxes soar. Then if one IS out
of the box, there is less energy available to change the box!

In the developed world the population is seduced and indentured from birth.
In developing nations the populations are paupered and indentured by the
developed nations.

On another list dealing with ecovillages we have been pursuing a thread
dealing with eco-carrying capacity and all-in costing of energy
aquisition/use. The result so far is extremely problematic. Technology
can't bootstrap us out of the fact there are too many people and more every
day. The globalized economy, corporate piracy of the commons and unequal
distribution of wealth and priviledge all exacerbate the problem, but sheer
human population size is in itself an intractable problem.

I wish to put forward the need for an international political party/social
movement called Profound Change. In my opinion only Profound Change in
human aspirations,social organization and population density can prevent a
very miserable future for the species and the interdependent inhabitants of
the planet.

In a paradigm where political wisdom believes only in incremental change,
if at all, and social science finds that 20 year "social lags" are the
norm, the call for Profound Change seems a naive whisper into the howling,
sucking vortex as we go down...

David Cameron

David Cameron-Y2K Community Organizer
Box 95 Riverport
NS  Canada BOJ 2WO
902 766 4129

Date: Sat, 13 Mar 1999 02:06:58 -0600
To: •••@••.•••
From: Mark Douglas Whitaker <•••@••.•••>
Subject: re: cj#910> re: "THE NEW CULTURE" -- idea-change vs.
  structural change

rkm (first, the Slater quote):
>    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.
>  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".

        I feel it can be more appropriately phrased that all we *are* asking
for is an *expansion* of individual choice, outside of the shallow
limitations corporate definitions of what individualism is (consumerism as
the only way we vote)--to allow for and include a situation on where
individual choices can 'choose' situations of smaller communities--instead
of posing this in terms of an embattled dichotomy "between" individualism
and community. In my opinion, this dichotomy only comes from the framing of
certain individual choices that political entrenched powers dislike as
'communitarian,' instead of seeing them as merely an extension of individual
        Anyone who will attempt to sell you a line that 'individual' action
stops at a certain point and becomes 'community' action, is generally only
attempting to discredit and direct your individual choice and constrain it
somehow to fit into supporting a structure orchestrated from afar. It's more
appropriate to consider the collusions between T.N.C.s and government
structures as 'the communitarians' instead of as the holders of the altar of
individualism, in that they are constraining individual choices by only
allowing for individual choices that fit their social norms of action (that
support their economic structures).

         Yet it is more than simply 'corporations' here, as I will detail in
a second, that are to blame.

        In this case, I actually see having the 'individual choice of
community' as a way to establish wider individual choice (that includes more
community organizational forms, 'individuals' capable of choosing them,
widening their choices) instead of posing some dichotomy between community
and individualism (that has likely been sold to you by some state power in
an attempt to discredit you publicly as 'communist,' 'radical,' etc.).

         If you ask me, we have a very restrained definition and enaction of
individualism, that may be characterized as simply consumer gratification.
This is the individualization that is sold to us as the full spectrum of
'choice.' Generally, 'individualism' is only enacted and constrained within
ideas of commodity choice instead of community choice AND commodity choice.
This is defining individualism only within the boundaries of a market
economy, instead of defining it within the wider boundaries (up to you) of
social organization AND commodity choice.

        It's more than simply T.N.C. 'taking' community away, of huge
external corporations imposing something upon us.  It is in addition their
capacity to always find/maintain a bulk of anonymous individual economic
decision makers somewhere (even if they are distributed across the world)
large enough who can be appealed to to only select for the best prices-well.
This *combination* erodes community. So in addition to finding ways to
challenge corporations as structural forms, we require means to maintain
consumer decisions so that the ironical tide of our bulk effects of consumer
choices avoids washing out smaller community level choices and shrinking
consumer choices in the long run to only T.N.C. commodities.

        Moderating strategies for 'shrinking' economic scale are generally
approached from the economic side--examples, either directly challenge
mega-corporations or found community co-operatives, etc. Yet it is equally
possible to approach this socially as well, since economic decision making
is generally socially 'embedded'  in particular social and cultural forms of
contact. T.N.C's, McDonalds, 'mall culture' are all examples of this, only
it's that what has become embedded in our social lives are these corporate
structures.  I would argue that one could as easily set up mechanisms of
cultural and community level contact and let the economics of that follow
from the interconnections, instead of working 'strictly economically,' since
as I pointed out above, small scale consumer based co-operatives are always
competing with a combination of mass markets, advertizing, and corporate
structures, so that direct economic challenges are (unsurprisingly)
overpowered generally. If the challenge is mounted on the social side,
interlinking people at the local level, economic decentralization will
gradually 'centralize' around the smaller social forms expressed (and
following from this, politics and mobilization potentials off less
clientelistic bases of power). Certainly, it can go both ways. All of the
long term co-operative stores I have seen rely upon a social coterie of
long term 'customers' for whom the place becomes a 'third place' for
community gathering, volunteering, and other related projects--instead of
just shopping. I have harped on this point/idea for several posts before, in
the CDI proposal: **that social structural change (and political
institutional change) can be a mechanism for economic change**, in that it
institutionalizes different mechanisms of power, influence, and economic
relationships. The questions become organized around: "What types of
politics do we wish to preference, from which economics comes?"

        Furthremore, if you follow my previous message that 'acting with
seven generations in mind' means 'planning for at least two of them at at
time' through asking what structures can transmit first generation
belief-only changes to subsequent second generations--I pose that that
**social structural changes and political institutional changes** that
preference a more balanced and inclusive political process are a major route
to be employed toward "economic" sustainability. Econoimic sustainability is
only another word for having a political process that avoids co-option of
local interests and the subsequent constraining of their individual choices,
econoimcally AND politically speaking, into service of expanding the
administrative centralization political, economic, and cultural  power.
Economic sustainability depends upon political 'sustainabilty,' that is, a
moderating poltics that can be sustained in the face of already existing
administrative political and economic relatioships.


       How do we come to believe that individualism is only consumer
'voting,' that business scale is only judged on its 'efficiency,' that
'economic development' is exclusively defined as T.N.C. and World Bank
penetration?  How do we come to believe in 'invisible hands' in economic
power, or in equating globalization exclusively with neoliberalism?
Typically, in what is called 'non-decision making,' the gamut of choices,
discourses, and 'participation' is already so off-the-table decided, that
certain biases in patterns of power are maintained without having to lift a
finger to defend them. Always ask, 'who built the table?" In these cases,
decison making is structured to leave certain decisions already made for all
parties. Like for instance, Monsanto calling a community meeting on 'how we
can make this genetically engineered seed work for us and how best to
implement its introduction?" President Clinton discussing 'inevitable'
globalization?  (Then, er, why does it require a 'fast-track' policy, El
Presidente?) See all the non-decisions being 'made' already in this
Monsanto-esque statement? (1) it is/has already happened, (2) community
support is required to compromise and actually to help integrate itself into
the plan, (3) how the discourse of it disallows certain concerns from even
being addressed, or at worst, being seen as 'undemocratic' by disagreeing
with the 'forum' set up? That's the power of non-decision making.

        I am suggesting that there is a form of  'non-decision making' going
on in the way we understand what 'individualism' is. Whose individualism are
we protecting anyway? Someone else's definition of it that is constraining?
Or our own--a definition that * includes * community as a individual choice
without 'innately' opposing 'by definition'  (whose definition?) individual
initiative lock, stock and barrel--only instead opposing highly particular
particular individual initiatives that impinge on our individual choices
(and typically get away with saying that they are 'representing all'
individual initiatives in their actions, and anyone who opposes them as by
definition 'unindiviualist'  This turns the tables on the victims, and makes
them defend their own defense of their individualism.

        Returning to the point about social organizational and political
organizational change as a form of 'economic development,' I have discussed
this in many messages before, in relation to the CDI proposal, as something
designed to have multiple second-order feedback effects (economic and
political). That is best seen on a web page:

Another form of 'non-decision making'
is in evidence here as well, in how we are told that economic 'development'
comes at the price of certain other forms of community, democracy, etc. I
would ask, "what decisions have already been made, what dichotomies have
already been posed, in such a statement, and whose ideas of 'economic
development' are these anyway? Who built the table? How constrained are
their definitions of individualism and of our definitions of individualism
as a consequence if we fall for the dichotomy they set up?

         Those out of power always have a wider action set of individual
actions that any existing power moves to constrain.

        So what am I wanting to sell you here? Only that you should think
twice about who's selling you your conceptions of indiviualism and
'unindividual behavior,' or that you think twice before believing someone's
opinion about someone else's 'economically irrational' behavior.
Economically irrational to whom (the speaker.)?  People may talk of
'invisible hands' in economics, yet they certainly cast big shadows if you
bother to look.

        There seems to be a larger theme I am touching on. Looking back on
what I have written, I have given three examples here of (1) how constrained
defintions of individualism, (2) 'economic (only) development,' and (3)
''invisible hand' market economics' are all coming together to define a
world and a political process that leave much 'off the table' when issues of
'the public good' are 'decided' (non-decided) or voiced in the media and
subsequently enacted into law or foreign policy.

        Generally, I have offered how it is best to question easy
dichotomies, as they only maintain (1) sutations of debilitating opposition
between allies amongst whom there is much common ground, (2) a lack of
creative thought, and (3) are already 'half-coopted' viewpoints about the
world in that you are 'coming to the table' already built by someone else.

        Remember that the next time someone tells you you are failing to act
"in your own interest' they may be asking you willingly to act only in theirs.

        Who built the table?


Mark Whitaker
University of Wisconsin-Madison


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