The Cellular Society

The article below was written in 2008 as I began my descension down the proverbial rabbit hole.  Most of the views within it are views I still hold but, in particular, making “capitalism” out to be the sole perpetrator of the woes afflicting us was narrow sighted.  I still hold that capitalism can work but what we have now is nothing more than what Max Keiser refers to as “rigged-market-capitalism”.  The financial sector and neo-liberal economic polices  have truly provided the death blow to what remains of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” and to the average joe American’s perception of capitalism, imho.

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The Cellular Society

Renowned anthropologist Stanley Morgan, in his book Ancient Society, categorized three distinct stages of society within human existence, “Savagery,” “Barbarism,” and finally “Civilization.” Nietzsche likened it to a machine while Spencer to an organism. I liken it to the fundamental unit of structure, a cell. Considering what we now know of cellular biology it is sufficient to say that both were accurate in analogizing “society,” although Spencer’s misrepresentation of Darwin’s theory of natural selection in coining the phrase “survival of the fittest” instead of “survival of the best adapted,” has led to the misuse of the theory of Social Darwinism by proponents of “laissez faire” capitalism, specifically within the United States (Enron). The creation of “mark to market” accounting which, in conjunction with deregulation, has created the current global financial crisis is an attempt for the rigged-market capitalist system to sustain its existence as the mode of production promoted and enforced throughout the world via the globalization movement. The creation of institutions such as OPEC, the World Bank, IMF (International Monetary Fund), Federal Reserve Bank of the United States, or the CFR (Committee on Foreign Relations) which happens to be a non-profit organization, are clear examples of what Marx would describe as the capitalist class of the world reinforcing capitalist ideals of competition, individualism, and Protestant work ethic through the pre-existing social and legal structure of society.

The failure in assuming that “society” is natural when in actuality it is artificially created by natural beings(humans), creates false assumptions that must not be applied. For one, it does not factor in “starting position” in an artificially created structure, which is a key factor and with time and subsequent generations becomes a product of inequalities. To argue that “government” which generally consists “of the people” should allow for “Nature” to take its course; thus, allowing the weaker individuals in the society to become extinct, implies that society is all powerful and that humans do not influence it and vice versa. This could not be further from the truth. Society is man-made; however, with the implementation of other man-made creations such as bureaucracy, the “state”, stock markets, the public education system, religions, or modes of production like capitalism or communism; modern day society has gone through a process of mitosis in exchanging structural blueprints amongst these creations, other man-made creations, and itself. The cellular society has adapted and assimilated useful traits into and out it, to perpetuate its existence; in turn, perpetuating humankind’s existence along the same artificially designed path, it, and other man-made factors have created and given value to. This inability to realize the magnitude of these relationships has led class relations, created due to “placing worth” on an individual’s time labored within the current mode of production to be seen as “natural”, as Spencer suggested, instead of its true form, artificial.

What differentiates humans from any other species is our ability to reason and due to our adeptness with reason we are allowed to look back on history passed along in books, videos, and speech while using our own perspective along with accumulated knowledge to make rational interpretations and analyses. Within nature, genetic traits are passed down from gen to gen and the best suited for their environment will survive in the end. The same can be said of society and the beneficial traits passed down from gen to gen, not genetically (natural), no; but, artificially within the same artificially-created structure of society. Examples of methods used to “pass along” beneficial traits within society can be seen in the forms of tradition, religion, inheritances, enrollment in prestigious schools, formation and supervision of organizations with individuals sharing similar interests. The erosion of traditional beliefs and moral accountability is directly related to the exchanges(mitosis) or concessions between the economic ideology of the current mode of production, capitalism and whichever institution it is exchanging its blueprints (ideological “norms”) with (I.e. religion, the “state” or educational system). Since negative wealth can be inherited by future gens while the opposite can be said for positive wealth, inequalities arise at birth and in no fault to the individual. According to Hurst, “recent federal bankruptcy law has also made it more difficult for average citizens to evade payment of their debts, debts that are in large part due to costs derived from medical bills, divorce, and loss of jobs” (Hurst 2007: 374). In stark contrast at the opposite end of the income spectrum are recent changes to estate tax laws which eventually allow up to $1 million dollars being passed down through wills without being taxed (Hurst 2007). The division in classes are formed through these inequalities, issued at birth, due, not to the individual; but, to the structure of current society and the evolution of perception that this is “natural”.

Education is an extension of the “state” so it is sufficient to say that anything that influences the state indirectly may influence education and vice versa. With what we already know from Dye and his “elite” class theory within the U.S. Government we must not forget that the educational system itself was created by individuals and over time has evolved with the state and the ruling class, blending the ideologies of the ruling class within the structure of the public school institution. Marx would analyze NCLB and uncover its true motive. It was promoted to “leave no child behind” yet this is exactly what it is designed to do. NCLB has created a new market for rigged-market-capitalism’s “free hand” to exploit. How you ask? It has created a fervent culture of competition (a new market) within school districts and given them the incentive of “do whatever it takes” to improve “standardized test scores” to continue to receive federal funding. Now school districts are pushing legislation, just as within the Ceres Unified School District and the recently passed Measure “U” which will increase property taxes to generate bonds to be sold for school improvements (I.e. new classrooms, additional bureaucratic positions) that create an illusion that the main focus is on the success of the student when in actuality it is on generating revenue for the districts themselves.

Although social reproduction theories tend not to focus on the original appearance of inequality; in conjunction with constructionist theories, they can be used to not only outline the process by which the social class structure is maintained, but show the causal relationships between the symbols of “value” and the individuals living within the artificial structure of society. A key institution for maintaining the current structure of society is the public school. It is a classic illustration of the two applicable relevant theories. Since the conflict model and Marxian views on class conflict and the subsequent production of inequalities provide the bases for social reproduction theories, it affords interpretations of the relationships between symbols ( I.e. stereotypes, words used to insight fear: “Witch”, “Communist”, or “Terrorist”, or words used or perceived by an individual’s peers derogatorily; specifically, within the school system: “Failed”, “Nerd”, “Stupid”) and the structural position within the public school system of the adolescent whose cultural capital and in turn his/her habitus. Within the public high school classroom setting the past 6 months I have encountered countless occurrences of male and female students ranging from 14-16 years of age repeatedly putting themselves down, “actively participating in their own subjugation” (Giroux: 1983: 89) due to the extreme values placed on letter grades (A, B, C, D, F), and positive standardized test scores and the negative effects of doing poorly on these tests for the individual and, now thanks in large part to NCLB, the school and the district.

Many factors can be attributed to the perpetual unconsciousness of the labor force within a society such as the powerful use of language through readily available media outlets (advertising, stereotypes, emphasis on status symbols that are also man-made) which; in turn, alters an individual’s perception about the current societal structure as Spencer eluded to when referring to class relations as perceived as “natural.” Knowing, “how people feel about existing inequalities depends on what they think brought them about,” (Hurst 2007: 355). So if people are unaware when reading textbooks of the subtle use of language such as “battles” versus “massacres” to depict two completely different pictures of atrocities enacted upon American Indians by the U.S. Military, their perception will be distorted and through other facets of society (described above), be reinforced year after year, thus evolving thought along the same artificial, yet “naturally” perceived, path I have gone into great depth describing. Until “awareness” has been spread and obtained by each individual, perceptions cannot be changed and one of the greatest technologies ever invented, the television, has the opportunity to assist in the “raising the alarm” process. However the uncompromising newscaster Edward R. Murrow, taken from his speech given October 15, 1958 warned, “But unless we get off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse, and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late.” I fear that we as a society have already long passed the “Point of No Return” and unless drastic changes to the structure of U.S. Society the world outlook looks bleak.

Capitalism’s key “benefit” is its flexibility in assimilating parts or ideals of desired institutions, created by and consisting of individuals, into its own core concepts (competition, individuality, desire to make profit). No better example, considering it is the holiday season, is the complete overhauling of the Christian religious holidays to promote consumerism. Examples abound, with Easter (Easter Bunny), Christmas (Santa Claus, Rudolph, and Frosty), Valentine’s Day (Cupid), each designed to do one thing, stimulate the economy and thus capitalism (two if you are a follower of Christian religions: “distract from God” and “His” teachings). The process of assimilation between religion, specifically Christianity, and capitalism and the ideology accompanying it, begins at the individual level within the smallest organization of all, the family. The interaction between the family and another institution, being the Church, is what capitalism uses to initiate the process of mitosis between capitalism and religion. This in turn affects the “state” as Americans are well aware of. An example is in the use of “In God We Trust” on the back of our currency which is stored, handled and pass around almost on a daily basis over each generation of Americans., and now, promoted on clothing attire worn by American urban youth. A “currency” created and regulated by another institution, the Federal Reserve who in turn is funded by a “group” of individuals sharing similar interests and wealth, giving credence to Dye’s theory of the ruling “elite” class. A second example is in the reciting of the pledge of allegiance daily for many years of several generations of Americans which has created what Smidt’s (1980) study of American elementary school children showed, a belief that the United States ,”’has been placed on this earth for a special purpose,’ that it has a ‘chosen’ status with God, and that it is successful because it is morally good,’” (Hurst 2007: 370). This language(symbol) driven evolution of culture in which God and the “State” are working together for a “just” cause is a direct factor of the perpetuation of American Exceptionalism.

Back to the mitosis between capitalism and religion, specifically the “tradition” factor associated with religion, and the byproduct of the “DNA exchanging” of the spiritual meaning of the holiday season and the artificially-fabricated profit-driven “deities” used to perpetuate the existence of capitalism by being perceived as “natural”. Traditions were created in turn, such as the cutting down of thousands of trees every year so that American families may place lights and plastic “things” on their branches, only to be discarded weeks later (markets created for each separate “thing” and each stage of the season). The evolution of this tradition is quite interesting itself. Initially candles were placed on tree branches of trees located outdoors and still with root, but over time and with advances in technology (electricity, lighting fixtures) have evolved into the naturally-perceived “norms” of American holiday culture. This same way of “consume and discard” thinking has led us to the creation of “rest homes” for the elderly.

“Out of sight, out of mind,” has never been more relevant than with the case of the men and women who helped build the United States into the country it is today. This inequality and injustice along with all the inequalities discussed can be attributed to the cellular society and the constant flux and exchange of values between the multitude of the core societal institutions, at times being diffused from a very small group at top(the elite) down to the bottom or other, more infrequent times, from the bottom, consisting of groups of other smaller groups that have come together, unified, to enact change upward. Each institution has its own structure, as I have eluded to, and each structure is open for re-structuring, or mitosis, as I have referred to it. With many examples, it is apparent that the current mode of production, capitalism, and the subsequent ideological results of the use of language(symbols) to perpetuate this ideology along with the use of institutions like the IMF and the World Bank with their controversial lending practices to other countries and the U.S. Military as chief-enforcer to the world of capitalist values will only give more merit to Marxian views. However, within the current U.S. Societal structure particularly the relationship between the mode of production and the “state”, should foster ideas of “fascism” to the “conscious” class and that socializing more services might have hidden side-effects (latent functions): the redistribution of power and subsequent control over the majority(lower, subordinate class) to the “elite” themselves. I do, however, believe social justice is attainable. If history can teach us anything at all it is that social injustices can be eradicated. Through activism and awareness and nonviolence movements much has been changed for the better but inegalitarians should not settle for the scraps from the elite’s table, rather we should be given a chair at the table and more importantly a true voice to explain the complexities of inequalities to the rest of the “unconscious” so that they are given a choice to decide.

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~ by jrparrott on May 18, 2010.

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