Thursday, March 13, 2008

Conformity and Fear in Modernism

One of the hallmarks of modernism is fear. Fear arises from modernism's emphasis on scale, its support for large organizations and institutions, i.e., bureaucracy, which its apologists defend on the grounds of economic efficiency. However, modernism depended on state support for those same institutions. In the 19th century state support involved tariffs, land grants, favors and subsidies to large organizations. The chief beneficiaries of big government, big businessmen, were able to convince Progressives, such as Theodore Roosevelt, that state management and stabilization were necessary. This led to the establishment of the Federal Reserve Bank in 1913, the chief source of subsidies to large coroprations, banks and the investment community.

In the 1920s, tariffs that had been abolished in the late 19th century were reestablished and in the 1930s the gold standard was abolished, freeing the central government to provide unlimited subsidies to large organizations. At the same time, government was centralized in the name of public welfare, making the ordinary citizen ever more dependent on large organizations. The alternatives presented as necessary to modern life were framed as a choice between large, inefficient, state-subsidized industries and even larger government-owned industries.

There was never any evidence that these were the only choices. In fact, the evidence suggested that only the capitalist class suffered from decentralized, competitive industry and that without centralization the average American saw increasing real wages and high demand for labor. The advocates of Progressivism argued that the competitive economy resulted in "overproduction". Yet overproduction suggests over-employment and excess demand for labor. Yet at the same time, the Progressives argued that over-production resulted in unemployment.

Fear arises because large scale institutional structure inhibits job formation. It does so through taxation, reallocation of capital from individuals to centrally controlled institutions via the Federal Reserve Bank, government regulation, the minimum wage and in the early twentieth century institutionalized racial discrimination. Government policies restrict the availability of jobs, making individuals increasingly independent on corporate and state employment. Income taxation and social security eliminate private saving so the individual lacks resources on which to depend if he loses his job and experimentation with new production and institutional forms is curtailed.

Corporate liberalism extends its attack on private resources to the few individuals who manage to accumulate enough to live without dependence on large corporations. It establishes an inheritance tax so that independence cannot be transmitted intergenerationally, increasing the likelihood of near-universal dependence on large institutions. The inheritance taxes are structured so that trusts and legal exceptions are made for the very wealthy, insuring the establishment of an intergenerationally progressive-liberal artistocracy based on ownership of large-scale institutions. Beneficiaries of such privilege, such as the Ochs Sulzbergers of the New York Times and the Rockefellers, then argue for increased inheritance taxes on others who can afford less creative legal advice.

Fear arises because loss of employment can mean personal disaster. Risk increases with ability level. Corporate jobs are difficult to procure because of artificially induced shortages. Specialized knowledge is often firm specific, hence, the individual becomes politically, intellectually and morally dependent on the corporate system. The most talented individuals become the most inhibited. The inhibitions are reinforced through cultural institutions such as universities who incultate political correctness, uniformity of thought and cowardly political behavior.

Individuality erodes for additional reasons. First, in the workplace corporations discourage individuality in the name of coordination. This is done by requiring "interpersonal skills" or "managerial skills" of corporate employeesj; requiring that individuals be "team players" and in universities through "political correctness" and ideological litmus tests. Employees who do not conform to the corporate or academic value systems are regarded as troublemakers and are precluded from further engagement with the firm or from promotion even if their productivity is significantly higher than their wage. Hence, large institutions are generally inefficienct and do not maximize profit. This is possible in part because they are subsidized by regulation and Federal Reserve Bank credit and because they enjoy substantial monopoly power in their industries.

Fear and conformity result in a propensity toward mass thinking among modern citizens. Those who deviate, are "politically incorrect" do not behave appropriately are viewed as unemployable. A few are able to start businesses or find alternative ways to make a living. However, these are too few in number to alter the character of modern society.

Second, mass consumption and the mass media result in a high degree of uniformity of opinion. Mass consumption requires a uniform assortment of merchandise of modest quality that is attractive to large numbers of consumers. Coca-cola, McDonald's and network television become standards, and refusal to engage with these products becomes a stigma. Likewise, those who produce mass media are subject to the same corporate groupthink as the members of other corporate and professional communities, and the public mind is heavily influenced through repetition and frequent exposure to television and films.

Fear and conformity lead to fascination with mass entertainment, frivolous interpretations of what art, knowledge and literature are, declining standards in academia and higher education and failure of science. The achievement value of achievement is replaced by the value of conformity, other-directedness, groupthink and acceptance of authority and political correctness. Thus, left and right are alternative cults that aim to provide a "received" political value to conformist, modern citizens. Participation in a cult is necessary because modern citizens lose faith in their own ideas and opinions, and come to believe that newscasters, newspapers and others are necessary to make intelligent and informed choices. Of course, such sources are no better informed than the citizens themselves, and so the modern political world becomes a contest of wills among several groupings of opinion, each one ill-informed and each one emotionally comitted to its group, and each one unable to free itself from the fear and conformity that drive their spirits.

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