Saturday, January 18, 2014


12, 3, 456
Civilization is the sum of population, culture and the material artifacts of the two, primarily now in cities and the physical systems on which cities depend. Culture is an artifice that expands infinitely to include all communicated and effective ideas, its’ medium is people and its milieu is mind. Culture is the intellectual infrastructure of civilization. It organizes populations around ideas about god and things, about reproduction and death, and about how to benefit from civilization, its manufactured habitat. Culture creates religion, politics, literature and all of the other ideas and objects that comprise the superstructure of civilization to which we in some ways acclimate ourselves.

As individuals or groups, when we act within these cultural institutions they amplify our motives by leveraging them across groups. We produce objects, tools, documents, art, buildings and the world of fabricated things, or we participate in the feed back system of communicated ideas manipulating the infrastructure that is culture itself. Whether objects or ideas, those things that succeed in re-shaping culture are then integrated into it to strengthen their hold on it, or added by accretion when new institutions are created. In either case successful objects or ideas are assimilated into the perpetual re-transmission and propagation that is the core conservative function and fact of culture.

The cultural forces that suggest actions to people, that engage our emotions, are simultaneously acting on individuals and groups. What we individually experience between ourselves and the groups to which we choose or are forced to belong is often dissonant. The cumulative effect of the syncretic

Saturday, January 11, 2014


If you've read this you'll understand how grating I find the formulation "financial repression", none the less I like this series of posts. In them Edward Lambert provides a reasonable definition, at least from the point of view of finance professionals who's darker angels can actually be repressed by the phenomenon he describes, but typically aren't. Lambert's focus is on the NeoLiberal era wherein such "repression" has been deployed primarily as a mercantilist tool for states and corporate interests that see monetary accumulation as a power imperative. 

It is very important to note however that policies falling within Lambert's definition of "financial repression" were responsible for paying down America's post war debts after WWII and at the same time creating the most robust middle classes the world had ever seen here and in our protectorates of the time. If that's repression, we need more of it. That era saw the tools in the financial repression tool kit put to broad public purpose both thwarting the ambitions of avarice and enobling the protean creativity of labor. So really its the use of the morally weighted "repression" in the naming of a tool I object to: tools are by their nature morally neutral, it is only the human agency that directs their use that lends them moral meaning.

Financial Repression 5: Edward Lambert: Angry Bear
The Middle Class Is Dead: Edward McClelland: AlterNet
Why Its Not About Money: Ian Welsh
Frontiers Of Commerce Without Trust: Rob Wile: Business Insider
Tax Price, Not Value: Steve Randy Waldman: Interfluidity

Friday, January 3, 2014


1, 2, 3456
Mother   Father        Family         Community    Civilization
Food      Tools    Communication     Language    Literature

As consciousness organizes the mind, extensions of identity accrue adding to awareness the perception of belonging that comes with effective engagement. The first place in each of the above sequences is occupied by a primal awareness. By the second place, sociability and culture are already coming into effect. Associative feelings are interacting with deliberately crafted transfers of functional knowledge. Sociability is instinctive and innate; culture is adaptive and external. By the third place, consciousness is already integrating experience at the highest level found biologically outside the human community. But the typical human differentiation of meanings has just begun and proliferates at the level of the fourth set, the advent of society, it positively explodes as literature makes Civilization possible.

Our expanding awareness reaches deeper and deeper into our social and material environments. When the written word transubstantiated cultures into Civilizations it increased the depth of those environments exponentially.

The paired terms above describe the human (social) and functional (cultural/technical) extensions of our infant identity. As we come to recognize the people and tools within our perceptual sphere, first we develop the entirely functional relationships of our pre-linguistic state, but then, as language becomes available we begin to tell ourselves stories about who we are and how we relate to these people and things. This is the process of individuation and the stories we tell ourselves ultimately become our representations to ourselves of identity. This is how we define the relation of our goals and sense of self to the civilization into which we have been delivered.

Acculturation refines our relationships with both people and with things. Our need for self-definition engages us with our cultures stories.

In communities individual actions are constrained by group needs and individuals’ reciprocal need for groups. Personal effectiveness within the group devolves from aligning individual motives with the motives of the group, from self control. Agreements of meaning, what it means to the group for an individual to be brave for instance, make this possible: courage defends the group from threat at individual risk and the group confers prestige on the courageous as an expression of agreement of benefit provided. Courage has meaning for a group that then reinforces courage as a personal meaning

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Brand, Paxman and the Democratic Aesthetic

I posted this BBC interview of Russell Brand by Jeremy Paxman recently as a Link because I was attracted to Brand's ethical zeal. I thought he called out a laziness on Paxman's part that seemed to me a fair proxy for the general inertness of most Western Liberalisms. But it keeps bubbling back to the front of my mind: there is something deeper going on here that yields both a more positive picture of Paxman and a potentially useful shift in perspective.

Brands's position is one of direct ethical experience: the people he knows and cares about are being systematically screwed by a system that is neither representative nor just. Paxman tries to maintain a position above this looking at the institutional implications of Brands' ethical assertions. When Paxman suggests one can't take political comments seriously from someone who refuses to engage with the political system, he is trying to draw Brand's energy into a system of political institutions in which, I suspect, Paxman believes deeply: he calls this amalgamation of systems "democracy" and is adamant that participation in its processes is the sine qua non of political engagement short of the might makes right kind of engagement typical of authoritarianisms.

Brand is having none of it because he has too much direct experience of the deleterious affects of Paxman's system, such as it has become. Brand has the imagination and curiosity to see the realities of environmental and human degradation rampant in the nominally democratic world he inhabits. I don't think anyone who pays attention and is honest about what they learn can any longer sustain the argument that, world wide or even in the West, our current technologies in combination with our existing political economics are by any stretch any where near sustainable. Not only this, but looking just at the political economics, there is no plausible argument that anything significant is moving in a positive direction. Much better arguments exist that political economic events are accelerating rapidly toward some decidedly bleak, even disastrous outcomes.

But Paxman's history is right: representative government has the best record throughout history in ameliorating broad popular problems and mitigating the distributional sclerosis entrenched institutions embody once institutional imperatives take on bureaucratic life of their own. So what is really