Friday, August 26, 2011

Galtung, Macrohistory, and 2008

I'm cheating a bit on this blog post by doubling up with my final assignment from my latest class from Transcend Peace University.  I'm using the text of my response as my blog post, which actually works out fine, since I've been thinking about economic/political issues anyway.  It might not make a lot of sense out of context, but I think the basic upshot--that our discourse around the economic "crisis" is based in a rhetoric of personal accountability and blame and this leads to a myopic view of the problems and solutions--is clear enough.

A macrohistoric/holonistic view of the response to the response to the 2008 economic crisis would move us away from (to use the terminology of rhetorician/social critic Kenneth Burke) a preoccupation with the Agent/Act relationship to the Agency/Scene relationship.  These roughly translate to moving from questions of “WHO did WHAT” to “HOW did it happen and WHEN and WHERE did it happen.”  In the macrohistoric view, the when and where are vast, the when being the history of capitalism and the where being the globe.   We are then prompted to look at 2008 as a byproduct of a system, not as the malfeasance (ACT) of particular people (AGENT), such as bankers, government leaders, unions, or even whole countries (Greece, Ireland, Spain, etc.).  

The problem policymakers see 2008 in agent/act terms, and the solutions are similarly short-sighted.  The complexity of the system is ignored.  “Austerity” is invoked—a solution steeped in the idiographic mindset that individual virtues are the response to a systemic issue.  Particular people are blamed and punished (“greedy” union members, the “unproductive” poor, etc.).  The blame falls on those whose economic existences are most directly affected by situation, despite the fact that they are already economically marginalized within the system of capitalism.  Here, we have Burke’s fifth and final term: purpose, or “why.”  While traditional views would ascribe the “why” of 2008 to individualistic motives (albeit often projected onto collectives) and corresponding flaws in character, a macrohistoric view would see the “why” in terms of the internal mechanisms of capitalist economics—as system problem, not an individual problem.  Solutions would be based on examining the internal mechanisms of the system and changing them.  Even then, however, a macrohistorian would point out that such changes will only slightly alter its workings in the long run.  As the Roman empire enveloped cities and states, societies that had theretofore been relatively homogeneous in terms of economic standing of their populace became increasingly stratified, with growing disparities between the wealthy and the poor.  Social instability followed.  To the macrohistorian, such a data point would be more relevant to explaining 2008 than the GDPs of various countries in 2007.  Militaristic capitalism leads to expansion which leads to empire which leads to exploitative use of resources which leads to society being “stretched” wildly between extremes of wealth, which leads to economic, political, and social instability.  

Because policy makers generally 1) have a vested interest in maintaining the system more or less as is, 2) have chronological horizons that last only until the next election cycle, quarterly earnings report, or their own personal lifespan,, and 3) are wedded to the personal view of history, with heroes and villains (where they, at the top of the political and economic ladder, are of course the heroes), there is little chance for fully grasping the problem, let alone resolving the conflicts it engenders.   A macrohistoric view looks the issue from a systems point of view, at the changing relationships among economic stratification, expansion of economic domains over time(city-state, nation, region, globe), and conflict/peace over the scope of history.  She/He would also perhaps suggest that the current system and its measures of “success” are problematic and that not only the system, but the purpose behind it should be questioned and changed.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Of Kissing and Killing

FYI, I'm going to be posting weekly here on Fridays.  Putting myself on a schedule will prompt me to gather my thoughts and be a better blogger!  Also, if I don't have anything profound to say (which is most of the time), it will goad me into being a bit more glib and personal, which would again make me a better blogger.

So, anyway, I've been Gleeked by my wife.  Not only do I now watch Glee on a regular basis, but I've also gotten hooked on The Glee Project, which is a reality show in which a dozen or so young folks compete to win a recurring role on Glee next season.  Yes, I believe my Man Card has been voided by the central office.

What does this have to do with nonviolence, peace, etc.?  Well, I suppose one could spin hypotheses about the relationship between testosterone and violence, but I'm not going all gender-y today.

Instead, the episode last week got me thinking about our attitudes toward violence, sexuality, and their symbolic representations (in this case, acting). 

Here's what happened: one of the contestants, Cameron, is a lanky young dude with a good voice, shaky dance moves, and a conservative Christian mindest.  He's a sweet kid--easy to root for.

Anyway, during a recent video shoot (the contestants must record a song and perform in a video together each week as part of the contest), a fetching young female co-star/contestant kissed him in a bit of improvisational whimsy.  Given the nature of the song and the video, it was entirely in character and probably helped both of them "pop" on screen.

No big deal, right?  Wrong.  Cameron flipped out afterwards, calling his mom nearly in tears, saying that he felt he had "cheated" on his real-life girlfriend.  The kiss itself was chaste, and it wasn't Cameron who initiated it, but nevermind.  The poor guy was inconsolable.

Indeed, Cameron's uptightness about portraying physical attraction has become one of the subplots of the show.  So strongly does he feel about this that he [spoiler alert!] voluntarily withdrew from the competition.  According to Cameron, his unwillingness to "go there" on-screen is because of his Christian upbringing and morals.  Some things, he says, you simply don't do, even if it's acting.  After all "what you do is what people see."

Okay, but I find myself wondering is what would happen if Cameron was asked to play a scene in which he hit somebody.  Or called somebody a fa**ot.  Perhaps the writers for the show would create a scene in which Cameron's character was the victim of bullying, and he had a dream sequence in which he fantasized about gunning down his tormenters.  Or maybe he'd simply be asked to "slushy" somebody.

All of these actions of verbal or physical violence would be against any sense of Christian morals (or virtually any other set of morals, for that matter).  Would Cameron balk at doing any of these things?  Even if they were all things he would never, ever do in real life, would he call production to a halt if asked to portray them onscreen, in character?

Maybe, but I doubt it.  And that's what caught me when I first thought of it--how odd it is that somehow kissing someone would be a deal-breaker, but hitting them wouldn't be.

This isn't to denigrate Cameron's particular beliefs.  I think we as a society, not only conservative Christians, share a fairly bizarre attitude when it comes to violence and sexuality (even its tamest forms).  We're far more comfortable with the former than the latter.  A bare breast can't be shown on broadcast television and will get a movie an R rating, but you can punch, shoot, cut, dismember, blow up, and torture all you want, even during dinner-hour television.

I have to admit that if my wife were in a play, I'd be much more comfortable with her miming violence onstage than miming affection with someone else.  Why is that?  How would I feel if it was me that was doing the acting?  I'd like to say I'd find it much more emotionally and morally challenging to mime doing harm to someone else than being affectionate, but I can't say for sure that's the case.

But the upshot is that there's more going on with L'Affair de Cameron than values.  Presumably any number of actions Cameron would say go against his Christian beliefs would pose no problem for him if called on to portray them onscreen.  But would Cameron call his mom in tears, saying he felt like a "criminal" if asked to act out striking someone, or even killing them?  Again, I can't say for sure, but I doubt it.

Which leads me back to the question I have no other answer for, other than our rather twisted set of cultural norms: why is it more more morally repugnant to pretend kiss than to pretend kill?