Five Little Monkeys… Or Is That Three?

Dear friends, readers:  It is now two years since I began this blog. 200,000 page views, 455 followers, 150 countries logged-on, and lots of discussion.  I have been posting a story each week, for a total of 112 posts and 8,000 comments.  Well.  I need to change the story now.  It is time.  I will keep the blog, but I will no longer post each week (life demands more of me).  But here is what I propose we do: I am making an open “call for guest posts.” If anyone feels they would like to place an essay on kulturCritic, I will post it. You all know the general direction of the blog, so please keep your proposals in that spirit.  I hope to hear from you soon, so we may keep this thing going.  I will try to post my own ideas at least once a month.  Nobody is excluded… the offer is open to all.  Just email your article to me at: sandy@kulturcritic.com.  

Faithfully yours, Sandy

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The human species, led by white Europeans and Euro-Americans, has been on a 500-year-long planetwide rampage of conquering, plundering, looting, exploiting and polluting the Earth—as well as killing the indigenous communities that stood in the way… But even as our economic and environmental systems unravel, after the hottest year in the contiguous 48 states since record keeping began 107 years ago, we lack the emotional and intellectual creativity to shut down the engine of global capitalism. (Chris Hedges)

Chris Hedges’ analyses are consistently uncompromising in their directness and clarifying in their assessment of our current social predicament.  However, it appears that Chris still believes this engine of global capitalism can be “shut down,” allowing us to reconstitute the Western Curriculum on new, more egalitarian, footings.  But this begs the broader question: what is the cornerstone of the phenomenon he calls global capitalism?  It seems to me that its foundation is private property, its acquisition and use.

Yet, ‘private property’ was not a recent invention of colonialist or mercantilist expansions some five hundred years ago in Western Europe.  Nor was it a brainchild of the late Crusades seeking to expand the reach and wealth of Christendom.  Private property was an already established fact  — symptomatic of a disease haunting human economic, social, and political arrangements since the advancement of agriculture, and the erection of the first city walls some seven thousand years ago in the Levant.  Indeed, state-owned property is ‘private’ in a real and practical sense. Just try squatting or homesteading in a national park someday… like Zuccotti Park, for instance.

Global capitalism is like the brilliant shining star, a ruling sovereign, sitting high atop a carefully coiffed cosmos, only vaguely hinted at during the very late Neolithic period, yet already entrenching itself in ancient Greek democracy, as Aristotle was busy laying the foundations and defining the terms of those disciplines that would soon circumscribe all social, scientific, and linguistic laws, as well as our hierarchical economic relations – in short, the Curriculum of the West.

Even the 18th Century romantic philosopher, Jean Jacques Rousseau, recognized that the problem of “ownership” went back much further in human history, back to the first glimmerings of private property that surely emerged in late Neolithic villages and then with the eruption of urban centers, leading to the establishment of “civil” society.  As the political philosopher said in his work, On The Origins of Inequality, when the first man placed a fence around a piece of land and declared it his own, his comrades should have ignored such lunacy or forcibly driven him out of their communitas. It was here that the sour witches’ brew of acquisitiveness, jealousy, and greed first found solid footing.

Then, in the 1830’s, a good half-century after Rousseau’s death, we find Astolphe Louis Leonor the Marquis de Custine complaining, in the words of Nina Khrushcheva, “that Russian civilization amounted to little more than the mimicry of monkeys.” She refers, of course, to what Custine saw as tsarist Russia’s rather crude imitation of Western productivity and style. In his Letters from Russia, he wrote, “They go to a great deal of trouble to achieve some petty end, never satisfied that they have done enough to demonstrate their zeal.” And if you look around Siberia today at a vast majority of people here in Altai Krai, from their public works to the private workmanship, you see a similar type of hollow activity – facades and rigid formalities; symbolism over substance.  Everything intended to produce the right effect – the same semblance of quality described by the Marquis de Custine a century and a half earlier – aping the postures and direction of the capitalist West. And, even Peter the Great’s eighteenth-century push to Westernize Russia with the niceties of French and Italian artistry did not really hit its mark.

As Custine summarizes,

Pay no heed to the boasting of Russians; they confuse splendor with elegance, luxury with refinement, policing and fear with the foundations of society… Up to now, as far as civilization is concerned, they have been satisfied with appearances.

Yet, we can forgive the Russian people.  After all, Russia was largely a peasant and village-oriented society up until the last quarter of the 19th Century.  Then under heavy-handed communist control they had to sit idly by and watch with envy as we in the West devoured almost all the goodies, and had all that fun.  And now, since the demise of the USSR, these folks are just in the early stages of absorbing a full measure of the Western Curriculum. Yet again, they only commit to memory what they believe to be the most valuable lessons of this alien culture, a culture grounded in consumption and acquisitiveness, accompanied by jealousy and greed.  One can see this reflected in a newfound arrogance among many Siberians today (successful, or not), accompanied by that still stoic Soviet ‘closedness,’ and a dismissiveness of strangers. A newly emergent “cult” of the individual has combined rather eerily with the old sense of slavish-anonymity leftover from the Soviet bureaucracy, to create a national character that simultaneously displays the worst traits of the Socialist model and the inherent destructiveness of the Western Curriculum.

Let’s face it, these new Russians have tasted the forbidden fruits from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thinking they know now both, and know them intimately.  While, all they really know of the Western curriculum is the façade and not the reality behind the images, the promises, the propaganda.  The lure of property, of acquisition, of unlimited consumption is overpowering, and blinds them to the dangers that inhere there. And so, they mimic the stylings, the fashions, and the tastes of the West in almost every way; indeed they outdo us in their focus on personal appearance and tidiness.  They adore spectacle, and they love to show themselves in a spectacular light.  Expensive cars spotlessly cleaned, well-pressed clothes and polished shoes, women made-up like porcelain dolls no matter what the occasion, and shiny products on store shelves that don’t work well.  So their images often ring false; the substance behind the façade, missing in action.  And, if you inquire as to this sense of style without substance, this vacuity, why things breakdown, for example, they will simply tell you: “That’s Russia.”  Yet, they continue to push forward; and they are determined to do and to have exactly as we do and have.   And the Indians and Chinese are even further along in some important respects, although there a brooding skepticism already looms.

Many developing countries newly drawn into capitalism as the only way to the “promised land” are now more doubtful than ever. Even those Asian countries, as the recent beneficiaries of capitalism, are having their doubts whether the whole thing was a setup — that is, a trap.

Yet, whether capitalism is the road to the promised land or to perdition is of little consequence now.  For we have travelled far along this path.  So what are we left to do, now, thousands of years after the fact?  How are we to respond to the yoke of economic slavery, avariciousness, and greed born of private property and its enticing avatars – capital, competition, and consumptive commodities?  How do we shut down the engines of global capitalism?  There are no simple answers to this question.  And even the Russians have no really good response; they simply mimic the rest of us monkeys.  But, perhaps I should await a reply from my excellent colleague, Chris Hedges.

50 Responses to Five Little Monkeys… Or Is That Three?

  1. Des Carne says:

    Climate Whiplash – the long view: http://www.themonthly.com.au/climate-whiplash-curt-stager-3385 Question is who will be (culturally) best adapted to be amongst the winners (ie, alive) rather than the losers.

    • kulturcritic says:

      Des… it is a perfect question… “who will be best adapted.” Perhaps you will offer a post on this subject? I hope you will consider it. Sandy

    • Disaffected says:

      Unless evolution kicks into major overdrive (who knows, maybe all this genetic science bullshit will yield some breakthroughs before we do ourselves in, but I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one), there likely ain’t gonna be any winners this time around. It’s a sign of our current arrogance that most can’t even begin to imagine that fact. Apes with tools ain’t any better than the rest of the species we’re putting out of commission daily. Just a whole lot more full of ourselves.

  2. bmiller says:

    Sandy,
    Well, if one must back away from a weekly blog then you did it in a hell of a fashion, one of your best. I’m particularly struck by your assessment of Russians “aping” the Western Curriculum and managing only to create a hollow façade. It is sad to think that this doomed model still has the strength to wash over other cultures, leaving them wet but unable to swim.

    That same tide, if you will pardon me continuing the analogy, has already washed back out of the backwaters in our own country. I’m always struck at how, in this late era of consumption, it is hollowed out in quality of goods. How the facades of the buildings themselves ape a perceived grander era. Is it not ironic that our banks continue to employ fake Greek columns? Or, our schools, going through the motions of educating children, manage only an imitation of what an educated individual was at the peak of the curriculum?

    Which brings me to Mr. Hedges point about shutting down global capitalism; superficially it is shutting down on its own. Which is all to the good because G.C. is such a powerful narcotic that no culture seems to be able to stop taking another hit. My gut still tells me that it will manage to strip all of the useful assets from the planet before it finally shuts down. And that means our descendants, if there are any, will live on the façade of what was once a planet.

    Thanks for the weekly ride. I’ll look forward to the next “monthly” missive.

    • kulturcritic says:

      Mr. Miller – I have always enjoyed your input. I think your analogy still holds strong. We ape our own past, as we keep trekking along down the road. And, I would love to see you provide us with a brief offering on the blog. I am sure you could follow up on these very comments to provide us some real food for thought. And I look forward to whatever you might offer up. I will prep and post it handsomely. Sandy

    • Disaffected says:

      I second that opinion Sandy. The Russian’s hearts aren’t really in it, are they? Well, good for them, is all I can say! Their instincts remain good, even as their way of life has been swamped by the global tsunami of greed that capitalism has unleashed.

      My impression of the near term future? As the US (in particular) and other first world governments continue to be hollowed out by the efforts of both sides of the political aisle, we’ll more and more turn to a locally based gangster capitalism (as did Russia in the wake of the collapse of the USSR), where private interests – both legal and illegal and everything in between – begin to offer protection and basic human services to the newly disenfranchised (so-called “Terrorist Groups” world wide already employ this model with great success as well), all for a price of course. Accordingly, the level of non-state sponsored violence will rise exponentially, with the state taking a hands-off stance on most of it as long as it doesn’t threaten the favored corporate plutocracy. In that sense, the state will become just another mafia-like actor in it’s own right, albeit limiting it’s representation to the same people it mostly represents now: the large multinational corporations and its elite. In short: fascism for the rich and total balkanization for the poor. In the end, peak resources and climate change will put an end to the party within the next century (thank GOD!), but not before most die miserable deaths at the hands of their fellow “humans.” Many will try to escape as best they can, but in the end, ain’t NO ONE getting out of THIS party alive.

      • Ivy Mike says:

        gangster capitalism… another mafia-like actor

        Oh yeah; as it has always been.

        “I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism….Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.” ~Major General Smedley Butler, USMC (1933)

        Along with the fascism/balkanization you mention, I fully expect the return of full-blown chattel slavery. Trading in human misery was the first profitable free market, as documented in Kirpatrick Sale’s After Eden: The Evolution of Human Domination. (Duke University Press, 2006) It has only been suspended temporarily, because oil is more economical to the elite controllers’ hammer and sickle projects than feeding humans.

    • Malthus says:

      “I’m particularly struck by your assessment of Russians “aping” the Western Curriculum and managing only to create a hollow facade. ” The only out come one can expect when the western curriculum is a hollow facade.”

    • Gordon Cutler says:

      I agree, BMiller, this is one of Sandy’s best.

      I noticed the same dynamic at work when I lived in the UK from the 1970’s to 90’s. Thatcher’s march to power was based in large part on an embrace of the post war American Conservative credo godfathered by William F Buckley Jr. I used to split my sides laughing at British Tories trying to sound like Texan robber barons or Milton Friedman. They could not have appeared any sillier than if they had dressed in pink tights and tutus for their days in the House of Commons. And I write that as someone who misspent his teens and early twenties in Buckley’s earnest looney bin.

      Meanwhile the Brits, thanks to the ‘monkey see, monkey do’ predilection of their political class are in the 34th consecutive year of unraveling social fabric. Adam Smith would be appalled.

      To paraphrase Richard Weaver, another ‘Fachidiot’ [that’s German for ‘expert idiot’] from the U of Chicago and author of one of the Right’s holy books, ‘Ideas Have Consequences’, sentience is an intermittent phenomenon…

      I basically agree with your whole comment except that despite a planet-wide ecocide, I think our species will survive here and there; that at least some of them will not retreat into disaster cults but learn their lessons. I am hopeful that they and their descendents will regrow our species as one that observes, listens and learns from the natural world and learns to live and work in harmony with it. That will mean recovering many of the skills our Mesolithic forebears set aside when they began to settle in villages, grow grains and bring on the Neolithic.

      Somewhere down that future road that I hope my inner sight accurately perceives, I can imagine a revision of the Latin name for our species… as sapiens we clearly aren’t. Homo Doofus appeals to my inner teenager but I am sure some with a proper Classics background can come up with something equally apt.

      • Disaffected says:

        Perhaps borrowing from American TV (primarily) – our defining characteristic it seems – they might dub us instead Homer Doofus, an homage to both our Simpsons’ and Greek legacies.

        In the end, it’s not that our culture is in itself so insipid; it’s that our culture has raised insipidness itself to such new heights of insipidness.

      • kulturcritic says:

        Gordon – your voice is not often heard here. Your comments are well received. I would love to see you try a full post on the site as well. I will expect something from you soon. I hope, sandy

  3. Ivy Mike says:

    I prefer to use the terms “Privation Property” and Privation[1] Enterprise”[1] to describe City-Statism’s (civilization’s) “continuous consolidation of money and power into higher, tighter and righter hands.”[2] This provocative etymological lesson especially raises the hackles of secular “new atheist” libertarian types who unwittingly cling to the religio-economic notion of a monotheistic “Divine Right of Property”[3] as expounded by John Locke in his On Property.

    And Sandy, I really appreciate that your recognize “state-owned property” is just as much hierarchically-control-freakish as capitalism. Frankly, there’s no significant difference, as even Lenin confessed.[4] Both Leftist and Rightist economic systems are identical, in that they both brutally enforce artificial borders to regulate the free movement of families who can “gambol about plain and forest”[5] to hunt and gather the proverbial free lunch off the land. Threatened with starvation, they can easily be coerced to submit to working for the hierarchical elite’s agriculture (the sickle) and industry (the hammer) projects.

    ____________
    [1] Deprivation – Private – Privation – Privilege – Privity – Privy, The University of Hull
    [2] George H. W. Bush, Sr., November, 1992.
    [3] “…those grants God made of the world to Adam, and to Noah, and his sons, it is very clear, that God, as king David says, Psal. cxv. 16. has given the earth…” ~John Locke (1690) The Second Treatise of Civil Government. Chap. V., Of Property.
    [4] “If in a small space of time we could achieve state capitalism, that would be a victory.” ~Lenin, 1918.
    [5] Richard Manning (2005) Against the Grain: How Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization. North Point Press. p. 24.

    • Macrobe says:

      Good points raised here. Humans are as territorial as the next species, but with much more ‘baggage’ added to it. ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ or the ‘common’ tragedy? The root seems to be power. The question is, how do we make that work for all, rather than only a few?

      • Ivy Mike says:

        You’re exactly right, the root of State society’s ownership model is power.

        “A society crosses the memetic Rubicon when it accepts the abstraction that ownership can extend beyond the exclusive needs of one individual for survival. Abstract ownership begins when society accepts a claim of symbolic control of something without the requirement of immediate, direct and personal use. Hierarchy, at any level, requires this excess, abstract ownership—it represents the symbolic capital that forms the foundation of all stratification.”

        ~Jeff Vail, Attorney at Law
        Chapter 9: Forward To Rhizome
        A THEORY OF POWER
        http://www.jeffvail.net/2005/03/theory-of-power-online.html

  4. p01 says:

    “…his comrades should have ignored such lunacy or forcibly driven him out of their communitas”
    Had I been part of that community, I would have yelled for a plain old unforgettable nose punching, because otherwise the guy might have gone to spread his brilliant idea to another community. And I’d also would have yelled and taken initiative for an extreme nose punching for the guy who started planting grass seeds to use them as food, because that guy is really at the root of the problem.

    How do we respond? How do we shut down the engines?
    First: hold no debt (the Neo-Pharaohs’ wealth).
    Then try to be as self sufficient as possible.
    Then we’ll see…because it doesn’t look as there are many people doing the two actions above…anyway.

    • Ivy Mike says:

      planting grass seeds to use them as food

      As fermentation vats predate baking ovens by 1500 years in archeology, it appears civilization is an 8000 year long raging bender. And much of civilization’s wonderful inventions can be explained by the addiction model. Even electricity; take it away now (such as an EMP attack), and 60% of Americans would be dead in 12 months, which means electricity is just as much physically addicting as alcohol itself.

      *hick* 😉

  5. As emperor of the world! I hereby wipe out all debt! Usury is henceforth punishable by death. All existing corporate, Gov, media, military and esp Bank executive staff/ownership will be given a choice between Hemlock (or some such equivalent) tea, or gardening for the rest of their days and delivering food to people in need, or until such time as they redeem them selves and prove capable of earning an honest living. Esp. intransigent usurers will be hauled out to the Marianas Trench and deposited. All gold and precious metals are hereby confiscated, commonly held, for the purpose of incorporation into the global information highway. All land now reverts to the Commons. Existing homeowners “own” the land they live on, as long as they live. Currency will be issued according to the information hardware, and the precious metals they contain, a public, democratically controlled process. Money managing will be paid akin more-or-less to any other public service, including toilet washing. Income more than ten times a toilet washer will be taxed at a rate of 98%; no one can profit monetarily off another’s labor. Taxes will go to pay for kids and old people – through the 13th year, as no old person should expect to be taken care of by the community, more than the last 13 years of their life. Now here’s the stickler, the one yer not going to like: Ladies, no woman gets to have more than one natural kid, for the next three generations (you can adopt as many as you like); any man with a habit of making kids he’s not taking care of gets his cock and balls taken off. Cannabis is legal. DHS, NSA, FBI, CIA, TSA, DEA, et al Federal, State and Local law enforcement, military – stand down.

    Oh, wait, I’m just one nobody, broke American. I guess the megalomaniacal nature of my country is rubbing off. LOL Reading about Rome just lately, that oh so fun period after the death of Caesar, the rule of the Julei, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero. Something to think about for Americans, as our last two presidents have declared dictatorial, absolute powers, with State control that would have awed any of these tyrants.

    (Can I cross-post here sometimes Sandy?)

    🙂

    • Disaffected says:

      LOL! Go big or stay at home, I guess!

      Gonna be fun to see how this year plays out. The latest meme being played out is that we’re now in the first “real” recovery since 2008. Why, no less an authority than the Jim Cramer was NBC’s Today just this morning crowing that it was so! After a good hearty belly laugh, I immediately had to sit back and admire the sheer tenacity of the pie-eyed optimists / government propagandists (take your pick). Thing is, I’ll grant that some of them even possibly “mean well,” at least in a general sense, optimism being a sort of faith after all, although it’s usually better if it’s at least grounded minimally in reality. But I think any current optimism based solely on the propaganda mills’ statistics churned out by Wall St and Washington is so far off base that it amounts to little more than a mass hallucination. And when I think of mass hallucinations, especially of the economic kind, one thing springs to mind immediately: another Wall St bubble in store! Let’s see, it’s 2013, a pro-biz, pro-war, fairly popular Prez, who has done nothing to re-establish promised regulation and reform just got re-elected. DJI again approaching record highs based on nothing more than pixie dust (aka Fed created and funneled “funny money”) and good intentions. Yep. Sounds about right. Here we go again!

      • bmiller says:

        Jim Cramer is such a little shit. He reminds me of friends who have been DJ’s, ready to prostitute themselves for any little used car lot in town. We all sell ourselves… some just more than others.

        • Malthus says:

          I think it was last year that John Stewart ripped Cramer a new one and Cramer turned into a sniveling little child admitting knowing the wall street investors and hedge fund types he interviews were all liers and whores promoting the everything is going to be just grand soon wall street happy talk. You are right he is a pathetic little greed head.

    • kulturcritic says:

      I expect you to, WHD. I enjoy your writing very much. Please, send me material whenver you like to my sandy@kulutrcritic. com, and I will post it here. Ahhh, if it will be a painless as Rome! – best, sandy

    • Lara's Dad says:

      fwiw, don’t know if you’ve come across “Plan B – A Systemic Revolution for Real Transformation” by Andreas Popp and Rico Albrecht, but your comment certainly parallels their “4 pillars”.

  6. The eclectic skeptic says:

    I’m enamoured with that school that says “if it can’t happen, it wont happen” Exponential growth on a finite planet can’t happen. Ergo… g’bye all. And I mean all.

  7. kulturcritic says:

    Greg, Ron, Brutus… you are also invited to post, and say what you please. Sandy

  8. malthus2012 says:

    Sandy, I can only express my thanks for your blog and for your thoughtful writings, opinions, and insights of our currant condition of now, past and future while we as a species live out our lives with those particular points of view. It is because of you and others like Spencer Wells, Thomas Metzinger and a few others that I have read or meet in my journey like Mortimer Adler, Karl Menninger, Hunter Thompson, Peggy Clifford, and even Oscar Acosta. You all have opened up a whole world of possibilities, probabilities, and view points in me. Because of you all, my desire to be aware of all the amazing research in process concerning the human brain and the discovery’s made every day of early human species especially in the upper Paleolithic concerning homo sapiens sapiens and Neanderthals. How wonderful our ancestors were and who are starting to be appreciated by more and more people and many of us know they still live in us. I am certainly not an academic nor did I ever really care for our currant concept of approved learning. I always preferred to be in nature something like our ancestors before the advent of organized farming 10,000 years ago and the advent of civilization which has led to the domestication of the human herd.

    When I was very young I was drawn to the mountains and wilderness of Colorado and especially downhill skiing and in so doing learned how gravity has effect on a person while flying down hill, cold wind in my face and allowing my body to do what it was made to do. Move and feel the environment of our ancestors. All senses alive during the graceful dance of skiing in a combination of sheer joy and grace. Yes, the dance of life. Or climbing a rock face and allowing all the senses to come alive with out the physical numbing of mental thought. Sailing on the deep blue oceans with the feeling of freedom as a companion and being one with the rise and fall of the waves and currants through sun and heat, and even mind numbing cold. Looking up at the stars one can only see away from civilized lights. No I never had the desire to climb anything except on rock walls and certainly not any ladder attached to a corporation or have a degree bestowed on me by some factory of behavior and agreed upon correct way of learning. Simply my rebellious nature’s POV. For others yes and ones I have learned much from including you my friend. I say that with respect and knowing you would be a person to enjoy a beer with.

    The only money I ever needed came easily enough with the intent to produce enough fun tickets to finance my fantasies. I never really considered the future except of what novel adventure I could create and certainly was not worried about having enough to get by with when I am unable to care for my self and those I know and love. Many now seem obsessed with accumulating things including money to rely on when age creeps up and hits one on the head. This is sold to everyone as a guise and ruse to stick with the rat race because if you don’t bad things will happen. Dependency is a powerful, and fearful drug.

    Finding your well written blog opened up in me the need to understand where we came from, not from the first modern civilizations, like Greece and Rome but way further into the past and how and why we have come to the present many like to call the pinnacle of human evolution.

    I will enjoy reading what others have to say because all come to your site are insightful and it is a joy to read their opinions. Thank you for providing the space to express all of our opinions.

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