Monday, October 7, 2013

Night, Beverly Hills


  

(from Beverly Hills Stories)

1.

- Hey, come on the number four bus with me. Two in the morning, just the right time. You'll get an education.
- In what?
- You'll board a kind of circling hotel, a dozen or so shapeless figures sleeping hunched over, sprawling out of their seats, in rags. When you get on the bus the driver averts his head so he doesn't have to look at you.
- Doesn't know what he'll see!
- That's right.
- Free market economics in action. Thank you, I can doing without seeing more of it. Do you think the madness will ever end, or we are approaching the end of the world? I mean, from here on out the world will be stuck in this groove until the end of time?
- I see signs.
- What signs?
- From Anthropology, a distant star of science. Science is our problem, of course.
- Of course. Why of course?
- Levi Strauss, Claude, not the blue jeans maker, invented what he called "structural anthropology". Rituals, myths and customs involved elemental oppositions, life and death, individual and society, man and woman, day and night, which could be arranged in many patterns. Individual people and things were in many categories at once. And there were obligations to be performed by those in one category for those in another. The result was balance of exchange between individuals and stability of the society as a whole. A kind of unconscious art went into the construction of the systems of class associations and exchanges between classes which showed great discrimination and observation of the things in the world and types of people, differing from our science in one important respect. Our science proposes new structures or arrangements, new models, in addition to present elements and relations. These proposed structures are hypotheses, then tested by experiment.
- So the primitives were stuck at one level.
- Yes. But they had a great advantage our us and our science.
- What?
- The practical purpose they used their science, their social art to achieve was social stability. The art expressed, taught, reminded of exchange and reciprocity. Our science, aiming at more knowledge of the world, expresses progress in place of balance.
- Science also has a practical purpose. You've told me many times there's no reason it couldn't be put to use to create reciprocity and stability and balance.
- The distant star science of anthropology seems to be moving in that direction. After collecting for hundreds of years information on these primitive societies, finding that things were never exchanged one for another, but instead as gifts made in the general structure of balance and reciprocity, finding the total lack of markets within communities, now anthropologists are asking simple obvious questions. For example, now that we know we moderns are pretty much on our own in having markets for free exchange, is it true that we are also alone in fighting wars?
- Primitives don't fight wars?
- Strangely counter to our prejudice, right? This hypothesis, new model, has now been tested against all the available evidence.
- And?
- Almost never was there a war tribe between tribe, army against army. Violence was local and individual, in retaliation for theft, for taking away a husband or wife.
- You're suggesting then that wars of armies against armies are wars of progress, on the model of modern science?
- Yes. It seems like warfare is an art that is formally identical, involves the same model of progress, of acquisition, as that of our science. Without our science, we'd be without wars.
- I don't think we're going to give up doing science.
- Science though can be turned to the practical use of understanding ourselves.
- We can't arrange knowledge in the stable patterns like myths and rituals and customs.
- We don't have to. We shouldn't anyway. We need a kind of scientific knowledge we can use to protect ourselves from the art of science, from the idealization of progress and acquisition that the practice of science otherwise teaches. We need to break science's monopoly, using against it its very own results.
- Go back to nature because science tells us we must?
- Primitive societies are fixed, to us with our scientific spirit arbitrarily and unacceptably fixed, stable because of balanced exchanges, but also almost always with some elements of hierarchy: upper, middle, lower, reflecting ritual: those who direct, those who follow, those who decide which ritual when.
- Then science is an example of directing which rituals when? Of upper class role?
- You can look at it that way.
- Do you look at science that way?
- As it is now, science in fact is not progress, not social progress. It has fit itself into the basic three class hierarchy, hierarchy being the only truly primitive element of the so-called primitives' arrangements. On the basis of this primitive hierarchy scientific society achieves stability. No matter how much equality we establish in law, what balances we try to establish in relations between people, tolerance, equality of races, religions, sexes, we turn those relations, under the hierarchical control of science, to progress and acquisition. We leave people free to make exchanges or not, and if not, we let them ride the buses in a circle all night.
- An ugly world we've made for ourselves. Go on. Tell me something positive, what we can do.
- Use science to find the rules to prevent wars. Begin with the two rules of the 19th century political theory of anarchism outlawing employment as part-time slavery and invalidating ownership without use. There certainly are other rules. We have to look for them and also, this is very important, we have to stop looking, know that the purpose of life is not progress and endless acquisition, but the good we progress towards and acquire things to get a hold of.
- What good? Did the primitives have it? Some at least?
- They must have. But, as the song says, love is the only thing there is too little of.

2.

- A lot of this I don't understand. Primitive societies are complex. Something created that complexity. And they are knowledgeable, right? About medicinal herbs, etc? What happened to the science, experiment and observation, that they used to gain their knowledge, make their societies?
- It was lost. Like we lost the philosophy, arts, theater of the Greeks and only began gaining it back 2000 years later.
- Ok. And our free market: you say it is part of the hierarchy where science plays the role of upper class. Explain that some more.
- Free market economics says to the scientists: hands off our hierarchy!
- Who says?
- Ritual. We learn to do things without knowing why, and then when someone asks why we do it, we answer, that's how it's done. We do it because it makes us feel safe and powerful.
- So we got back our creative science, and at the moment it might have been turned to society, to creating what you called a technology of good, the ritual of the free market arises to block that development.
- Unsuccessfully.
- Yes. English, American, French revolutions came one after another. Science is at war with itself. And now?
- We have our leaders in politics, in the Universities, practicing the free market hierarchical science, allowing themselves to investigate everything but how people trade with each other, how people like or don't like each other. The results might hinder the regular function of the other two classes, those who work and those who manage workers. What workers and managers do must be left as it is now, unconsidered, learned without knowledge, learned ritually. Meanwhile, we have real science teaching us how free trade in primitive peoples is exceptional to their ordinary life of gift giving, done only between enemies, that only scientific hierarchical societies like ours, where managers and workers, buyers and sellers deal with each other in a constant state of enmity, fight wars.
- Do the leaders know what they are doing? Don't they care they are ruining people's lives?
- At the trial of Adolf Eichmann, the infamous manager of transportation for the Nazi's final solution execution of millions of people, the prosecutor forced him to admit he'd been taken to a concentration camp to watch through a peephole the mass gassing of hundreds of naked men women and children. He said he fainted. Then went on to do what was his job and he was proud to do. The prosecutors wanted to get him to admit that at one point at least he had done the bad his group participation demanded of him and rewarded him for while he knew absolutely that what he was doing was wrong. Suppressing individual knowledge of bad in exchange for rewards from participating in a group is one definition of evil. With time and distance, however, the individual resistance is overcome. Not forgotten. No. Every element finds its place in the repetition and hierarchy that is working out so well and creating so much power for its scientific directors.
- So they don't care about destroying people's lives. They don't think they are. The system is responsible, the hierarchy. It's just the way things are. They aren't evil.
- Do they look evil to you?
- No.
- Do you believe they themselves feel evil?
- No. But you imply with your Eichmann story that they do know what they are doing.
- They do. There's not the slightest doubt about that. In the U.S., in the European Union, our own economists tell our leaders the economic theories they put into effect are false, but they do it anyway. The free market is off limits. The hierarchy exerts its authority. Existing relations between people, as enemy to enemy, cannot be challenged. Ritual does its work. The stability of society technology creates helps them accept as inevitable, as "what's done", accept all that in the life of enemies living among enemies once long ago terrified them. The ride on the bus is long past. All is well in this best of all possible worlds.*
- So what's next? Will science free itself from the hierarchy?
- How should I know?

*Further Reading: A Big Mistake