The most seminal impact of envy consists … in transforming “the ideas of the dominant” into the “dominant ideas.” Once the link between the privileged position and certain values has been socially constructed, the disprivileged are prompted to seek redress for their humiliation through demanding such values for themselves—and thereby further enhancing those values’ seductive power. (Zygmunt Bauman, commenting in Postmodern Ethics, 1993, 216)
Bauman’s astute observation about envy applies equally well to enmity. The most seminal impact of enmity, we might argue, using Bauman’s vocabulary, consists in transforming the violent practices of the dominant into dominant practices. Once the link between violence and social status has been established, victims are prompted to seek redress for their oppression with violent means. The social impact of envy and enmity, singly and in combination, is to reinforce the dominant values and practices that cause and perpetuate oppression in the first place. Envy and enmity keep the disprivileged and weak chained to the dominant order—even when they succeed in toppling it! All too often, of course, they do not want to topple the dominant order; as Bauman says, they “demand the reshuffling of cards, not another game. They do not blame the game, only the stronger hand of the adversary” (216).
Exclusion and Embrace, p. 115
The present risk in Libya, the future risk with Occupy Wall Street, the perpetual risk in seeking justice
What kind of change do people seek—one radically different, or the current situation reshuffled?
I am gearing up to write something on social networking, identity, and love relationships—more “Love your neighbor” than luv-love—so lately I read article after article like this. My third eye is glazed over.
So far my favorite is Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together. Let’s book-group it in a Google Hangout and help each other despair.
A newspaper trend piece told me that the 90s are popular again
Spend four hours listening to some Germany-only experimental John Cale album that he played on three keyboard keys during a drugged sleep, then play this song, and you will experience blinding relief as if God Godself plucked you up out of a barren desert and placed you down gently on a bounce house in a lush jungle
Yesterday I went to renew my driver’s license. A scruffy older black guy sat down next to me in the ocean of plastic chairs, shook my hand, and introduced himself. He said upbeat-like, “I can’t read; would you fill this form out for me?” He dictated, and I enjoyed being useful, and then we waited for our numbers to be called. He told me that he used to huff glue and deal heroin, and he’s been shot five times, but now he paints schoolhouses. His life is probably a lot quieter now, I said.
He hopes to move to California, become a fisherman, and get eaten by a shark.
Some homeless dudes (he was homeless) are sort of braggy—they love to amaze middle-class people with their hard-luck stories—but this guy and I seemed equally entertained by his stories. We hit it off.
I meant to catch up to him in the parking lot and ask if he needed a ride, but just as he started across the street, this woman who looked like she would be a bartender in a dive bar that does old-school country karaoke jogged up and asked if I had jumper cables, so I’m sorry, Lord, I got distracted.
Later I thought that after a lot of practice, you must get good at faking being able to read; you’d anticipate peoples’ expectations and follow cues like a psychic does. He went up to the counter confidently, betting that they wouldn’t ask him to read anything in addition to that form I filled out. You must develop an instinct for when you’ll be asked to read and when you won’t.
Anyway, it was the kind of situation that young ethicists fantasize about: filling out driver’s license forms for people who can’t read, concrete help for a worthy recipient. Heaven is a waiting room with tufted leather chairs in which you sit for eternity and fill out forms for an endless stream of talkative poor people.
This week, I really liked that the show captured some of the anxiety, ridiculousness, and chaos of making art, as it introduced the fourteen contestants. It may surprise viewers to hear this, but we judges are told nothing about the artists’ backstories or biographies. I learn that stuff only when I see the show — for instance, that Michelle (currently an assistant to the artist Marilyn Minter) was in a terrible hit-and-run accident months ago and has just relearned how to walk. We often hear complaints that certain artists have been cast for their looks, though I find, as an older person, that all of them look young and beautiful. Except the one who calls himself Sucklord. (“What kind of bullshit name is this?” I thought when I met him. He claimed he’s “like Warhol,” and just as I began to wonder whether he’d been put on the set as a Bravo prank, the show’s super-suave artist mentor, Simon du Pury, mentioned that he actually owns Sucklord’s work.) Despite his stupid name, as the first episode developed, I started to feel a strange camaraderie for this fellow-non-looker who gets by on energy and attitude. Whereupon contestant Lola cooed that she “finds him kind of attractive.” Argh. Youth trumps everything. Fuck me.
What comes first, belief or action? Do people join causes because they believe in the cause, or do they believe in the cause because they joined the action?
Your mind will instinctively believe the first – why else would you act unless you were acting on a want, a desire or a preference? […]
But what if that is backwards? What if participation structures beliefs? What if people start to get a version of what Occupy Wall Street is about – in all its forms, ranging from progressive economics to direct democracy to deep concerns about financialization and political corruption – because they stop by and check it out, or participate for a little bit? What if the things Jaffe describes – from the cab driver listening to it on the radio, to someone who could use some free food stopping by, to a formerly disinterested person staying to listen to a teach-in in a park – in turn structure the beliefs that then in turn call for more engaged action?
OK, yeah, good point. An action helps unengaged people to engage.
I apply this point to persuasion. Shifting a person’s politics and notions of justice requires you to ask, How do you change their plausibility structures? Think of a suburban man whose plausibility structure re: poverty is formed by Rush Limbaugh every afternoon on the radio, then think of that man driving into the city one Saturday and volunteering with a nonprofit. You could argue with that guy all day and not move him an inch from Rush’s side, but after he sees a public housing unit and meets a family who receives food stamps, he may think differently about “the welfare system.” The experience is more influential than an argument.
That said, Occupy Wall Street has great capacity to engage its participants and onlookers, but… that work is yet to come and will not happen automatically. I hope it happens, want to see it happen.
(Side note: I second the recommendation of the Ziad Munson book. Visitors are psyched to see its spine on your shelf, too.)