October 27, 2012

Visible and invisible hands in society and civilization

Glittering Images By CAMILLE PAGLIA Reviewed by Stefan Beck October 25, 2012
Paglia is writing for students, who, she feels, have been cheated out of adequate exposure to art and art history… She has no tolerance for reductive or anemic approaches to art history, taking aim at critical theory, Marxism, and multiculturalism. The reader is warned of the art world's mindless reliance on shock value and its reflexive hostility to religion. (It wouldn't be a Paglia book without a confession of atheism followed immediately by a robust defense of the splendors of world religion and its artistic heritage.)

The promiscuous lifestyle articulated in the first paragraph is prevalent in large sections of Western culture today, and in an age of globalization where American movies and sitcoms are beamed across the world, it is gaining acceptance in other cultures as well.  People are confused – they do not understand why religion and society has historically forbidden a fun-filled lifestyle which doesn't seem to carry any deleterious consequences. 

The first reaction to these allegations from the side of the Trustees was that they were “wild and baseless allegations”, especially the allegation of “sexual harassment and victimisation”.  A few of them even thoughtlessly proclaimed that they didn’t know of any such incidents. When they were reminded of the irrefutable cases involving the police and the Court, they quickly changed their statement to, “Oh, these things happen! We should not take these things seriously! We should not reveal these matters to the public outside, least of all to the Govt!” Would they have said the same if they themselves had been victims of molestation or driven to despair or death – there have been indeed such cases not only in the past but even recently, which the Managing Trustee has dealt in his classic style of “leave the culprit free and punish the victim”! 

Chris Beckett’s novel Dark Eden is not literally an adaptation, but in fact it “adapts” and rewrites a number of foundational Western texts regarding the origins of human society and civilization… At first they live in a tightly-bound, matriarchal, “primitive,” and more or less egalitarian society. But in the course of the book we witness the splintering of this society: a “fall” from a putative “state of nature” into a more “historical” situation.
This “fall” is the result of a number of pressures: most importantly, environmental stress (as a result of overexploitation of limited resources), and the frequent appearance of detrimental recessive genetic traits (cleft palate and clubfoot) due to the restricted nature of the gene pool, combined with adolescent restlessness, and a certain drive against tradition and in favor of innovation.
The consequences of this “fall” include the “invention” of rape and murder, the transition from egalitarian matriarchy to hierarchical patriarchy, a growing tension and discordance between generations, as well as between men and women, and an energetic burst of exploration and technological invention.
In recounting these developments, the novel gives us an updated version of what I would like to call speculative anthropology. Following the classical thinkers I have already mentioned (Rousseau on the origins of inequality; Nietzsche on the origins of morality; Bachofen and Engels on the origins of family structures and differentiated gender roles), Chris Beckett speculates about “primitive” society and the development of the social institutions that today we take far too readily for granted.

Smith also specifies the “necessaries of life”, which were part of the annual produce of the “necessaries, convenience, and amusements (luxuries) of life" (Wealth Of Nations).  By definition, human kind had managed to consume the “necessaries” (food, primarily, but also shelter and other basic utilities) since our ancestors were in the forests.  Those necessaries were basic, absolutely so in times of dearth.   No “proud and unfeeling landlords” shared the “luxuries” of life with the “thousands whom they employed”, except perhaps occasional cast offs of some “conveniences” with family favourites, but certainly no “amusements” – their wife’s luxury cloths, trinkets, and such like.
Those who see my critique of the myth of the “invisible hand” as “too narrow” should take note of the unintended consequences of letting their far “too broad” laxity about the atrocities committed against the truth and Adam Smith’s good name.  They live with what they create in their mysticism about how the economy works, or doesn't, as the case may be.  Buchanan has woken up to the fraud.  There is no invisible hand operating in any economy.

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