end of a broken thread

Wed, 2 Mar 1994 04:18:10 EST

/* As usual, there's yet another personal axe to grind in this whole deal, */
/* which is that Eva M. Armstrong got called the same racist epithet used */
/* against another Californian, my first wife (1971-1975), Camille Falk, by*/
/* Al Hansen, R/TSU-NCAS Art Dept. The slur against Eva M. Armstrong merely*/
/* omitted the "typical California" part of the epithet, xxxxxxx. Counter- */
/* epithets, such as "I can't understand you Easterners, with your *preju- */
/* dices, traditions, an' stuff*, are however Rife. But rare among anthro- */
/* pologists, on either side, in Canada. */
Summary: In response to an inchoate question that only someone socialized
into a subculture exalting tangentialism would have dared ask it, this writer
seized upon the question as welcome news for Impending-Doom awaiters after what
has been "experienced" in some of our circles as a long dry spell. The quest-
ioner had been perturbed by endemic and epidemic occurrences of "senseless
violence," meaning, violence apparently having made sense to its perpetrators
at the time of its commission, though otherwise unable to explain what they did
and why; but none at all to anyone else in conventional-cultural terms.

My response to the question, which the questioner complained about, was even
more incomprehensible to me, as it drew on forebodings issued by liberal-left
economists, people that is who make a tidy living off the Prophecy-Of-Doom
industry, by contrast to the rest of us. This school of thought holds that
capitalism, in its present globalist-transnational form, which is furthermore
highly stratified, exacerbating income-wealth inequality, within each country,
and highly stratified internationally, with perhaps a growing number of NICs
but few changes over the past century and a quarter in the list of countries
considered rich.

The stability of bourgeois society, that is, the society inhabited or
infested by capitalism, has long depended on two conditions holding. The first
is the capacity of the econonomy to provide, during times of prosperity, "full
employment," which is, in effect, a condition or state wherein there are so few
unsuccessful seekers of paid employment that the failure to be employed may be
plausibly attributed to refusal of employment due to laziness or other charac-
terological depravity. The location of the "full employment" point, never
reached in empirically observable practice, is historically relative; and
current notions about acceptable or desirable rates of unemployment in effect
write off very large categories of job seekers such as African-American
teenagers. Dislocated factory workers forced into downward mobility by the
deindustrialization wave of the 1980s, and when successful were earning half
or less of their former union wages, were showing spectacular rates of suicide,
homicide, car accidents, alcoholism, and crime by prevailing standards of the
communities concerned.
The second is the capacity of the economy to raise wages for each generation
above the level of the previous one. Whence appeals of incumbent political
parties that "You've never had it so good," until recently: Real wages peaked
in the US between 1967 and 1973.

The arguments of such conventional economists as Lester G. Thurow and Robert
B. Reich to the effect that jobs depend on productivity and skills lead to the
explicit conclusion that, for those workers with Third World skills there will,
with the elimination of barriers to trade and capital flows, a fall in wages to
Third World levels. This would make the prospects for racial minority labor
categories dismal and hopeless; we should wonder there is so little crime; and
liberal social critics invariably go on to propose reformist education and
training programs which will never be funded.

In the Third World itself, once-socialist Egypt and Algeria have sunk into
capitalist cesspits; Muslim Fundamentalist urban guerrillas make life unhealthy
for police, scare away tourists, and propagate the doctrine that industrializa-
tion and progress were hopeless mirages. Closer to home, older capitalist US
satellites, notably Brazil and Mexico, have lapsed into political instability,
economic chaos, or both. The poor of a rich country like Venezuela got shot
down by the hundreds in the Caracas rising, and in far poorer Peru 25,000 have
died in the Shining Path insurgency.

With the previously noted international discrediting of the Left, the only
political violence *must* be "senseless" to observers and journalists; there is
no *theory* wherefor the perpetrators might have recourse to selfjustification,
Islamic militancy excepted. The observed occrrences of baroque murders, serial
killings, teengang wars, preteen killings over lucrative drug territory, and
such stuff of Long Island Newsday front pages exhibits a combination of: One.
Entirely comprehensible violence reflecting structural hierarchicalization and
inequality of wealth, income, and status *without hope of reform*, and Two. Rot
or decay or decadence in the hegemonic culture, that is, the culture accepted
as Normal among the strata not themselves materially reduced to destitution
with human-services organizational collapse along with it.
To this we add the rippling effects in culture and social behavior of Civi-
lian Free Fire Zones, "black holes" of gun-control legislation nonenforcement,
where it becomes customary for affluent citizens to carry arsenals in attache
cases, glove compartments, shoulder holsters, and automatic weapons niches to
protect themselves against hypothetical attack by lower-class and sub-lower-
class gun-wielders who are protecting themselves against one another.
Brooklyn is such a Free Fire Zone, where steal-to-order car thieves who
expel the occupants of desirable models stalled in traffic on the Belt Parkway
can get sprayed with lead by armed motorists. The bulk of the 1,500 annual
handgun deaths in New York City occurs in Brooklyn. If 20% of children arm
themselves for self-defense just to go to school, that's thousands of guns.
Fast food and takeout food are sold from behind fortifications.

Crime in a place like Brooklyn does not cross class-race lines, with few
freakish exceptions. The cultural impact of the ubiquity of firearms and their
naturalness of presence in one's possession is however propagated, part of
the socialization process, and culturally exported. Consider the tales of two
gunmen, statistically and otherwise oddities. The LIRR gunman had been peace-
able, gentle, well-liked back home on Jamaica; but in Brooklyn, for some reason
he was believed to have, in mental-health terms, deteriorated; and acquired the
taste for handguns in the US, as well. Not part of the "Immigrant/Illegal Alien
[he was legal]/Undocumented Worker Problem"; part of the allarmenian problem.

On the other side of the world, the Hebron Gunman, a Jewish physician from
Brooklyn, acquired his allarmenian passion for gun macho in his native place.
Israel is a garrison state with racist population-control laws whose citizenry
receives military training regardless of gender (except for pietistic sect-
aries); the Israeli natives rarely kill in violation of orders and when this
occurs there may be major political scandal. (When I called my oldest friend,
Dr W, chief psychiatrist at Brookdale General, he and his wife yelled at me to
not mention the Hebron gunman, he was an isolated lunatic, didn't mean anything
with wider applications, and so on. Prior to this, Dr W's anecdotes about crazy
people had implied by omission of alternatives that only African-Americans were
psycho or violent in Brooklyn.) The Hebron gunman was made in the USA before
emigrating, as opposed to after immigrating.

Now, we all realize you'd prefer to discuss happy, cheerful news, such as
is discussed at adjoining tables by colunchingesting Suffix Countians reciting
Long Island Newsday aloud. Why, there's the Menendez Brothers, heirs to sixteen
million dollars, who just jumped the gun so to speak; and holiday on ice with a
lead pipe cinch. "I think LaToya Jackson is lying, don't you?" (Someone asked
*me* that question, said I knew nothing about Japanese cars.) The best news in
January was, Leona Bobbitt was an unarmenian immigrant; not to me; the natives
would have shot off the organ, precluding microsurgery.

Nobody has more of a vested interest than this writer in the end of violent
crime (nor greater interest, of course, in coerced equality of result by means
of violent revolution, which however, is up to the Broad Masses, I just get to
live in your neighborhood at best). Behaviorally an exemplary lawabiding
citizen, and when I owned consumer goods I eschwed garish makes and models,
conserved fuel, had the Thingie made a properly naturalized citizen in which
it resided, insuring its life; voted for one of the two Parties sponsored by
Them; and did not go beyond Protected Speech in advocacy of the violent
overthrow of the State. I did in fact sign an Oath promising to abide peaceably
the continued existence of New Jersey [!] except by duly constitutional means.
Now, however, I can empty an entire Long Island Railroad car with a single
[unintended] facial expression; and estimate that the price of a suit requisite
to lulling the unwary into a false sense of security has risen from $300 to

The terminally bizarre behavior of some of you Normals, which just makes
things hot for those of us with "severe appearance deficits," inspired me
to coin the neologism, "hyposemia." That the culture wasn't doing its job,
so to speak, by having things mean things. That was Feb 1992, on our sister
station HISTORY, Before Billary. H. Rodham Clinton, in her historic Austin TX
speech anent "The Crisis of Meaning," which she stole from Michael Lerner who
stole it from Paul Tillich, failed to account for the "crisis." What is it
about meaning, or signification, which etiolates it, or eviscerates it, induces
if you will the bemoaning of its disappearance no matter how proliferated the
industries trumpeting their success in mass-producing it? One of our most
distinguished ANTHRO-L dignitaries has emblazoned on his crest, "Meaning is
my business!" Same for a lot of people, all those *symbolic-analysis
specialists*. Surely we have a sufficient surplus for export, and *we do, we
do*. Media content made in armenia deluges the globe oozing forth from US,
British, French, German, Australian media multiglomerates soon to interface
with HDTV, endless Internet bandwith, 500 channels, one for each of the Fortune
500, or however Them divides it up, and for everything Tipper will say that the
lyrics are naughty (or occasionally nice). But meaning, being as intangible,
squishy, as software, cannot grow more slowly than what's stuck to cruddy
Nor is this a quantity-value theoretical situation, like Neoclassical
Monetarism, for example: That is closer to Baudrillard's position, where
the sheer quantity of signification causes the realness of it all to
What is going on, from my own sheer guesswork, is that meaning, supplied
by your culture going about doing its job, was formerly a collective, social
product analogous to "use-value production." Ask your local socialist under
Marxists-Sociologists in your Yellow Pages CD-ROM; better yet, drop a line
to Progressive Sociologists Network <PSN@csf.Colorado.EDU>, don't say I sent
you. If "meaning" is your business, whether you're remunerated in money or get
a line on the CV representing pecuniary loss to society, insofar as this is
true you are, in accepting meaning in any transaction entailing use of symbolic
capital, engaging in alienated cultural labor.

*This is getting pretty damned strained*. [I've been getting stupider every
day but haven't got so far gone I can't see I'm painted in the corner.] Let me
jump out the cockpit in my golden parachute for a second; what I'd say, simply
as I can, is, "Meaning or signification or whatever whatsit Thingies are the
products, which get manufactured by an industry for profit and consumed by
paying customers are *alienated*: the ripped-off human capacity for collective
social labor in creating meaning and signification, turned into a weapon point-
ed at those off whom the capacity was [untimely] ripp'd. [That's the standard
Bertell Ollman-type definition of "alienation" everyone learns in grade school,
this is on the up-and-up.] The new central contradiction of capitalism, as I
have told you time and time again, is situated in the sphere of cultural repro-
duction, not exploitation of labour. Unlike the sociologists, you will neither
burn me at the stake, nor drive a stake through my heart, for saying this. And
while we're at it, cultural reproduction, the reproduction of the shared mental
life of society and the products wherein it is objectified, has no analogue to
"surplus value," in the Labour Theory Of Value. [Iconoclasts might note that
s/v might never have been a mathematical expression in the first place; rather,
a metaphysical statement to the effect that "life is not worth living," it
having long been known that Marx was a victim of what we call Unipolar Affect-
ive Disorder/MDE. But the latter's unfair; it's True anyhow.]

Daniel A. Foss
<who wishes to thank Eva M. Armstrong for having been such a good sport about
this whole Thingie, and I wish I had studio audiences like her every show>