Outside the Asylum

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Engineering Culture
Pt. 1

About six weeks ago, I wrote an essay called “Cultural Engineering,” in which I laid out the ways in which reactionaries have manipulated American culture since the Powell memo (1972). It was primarily a historical overview. I now want to connect that history to our present. It’s easy to see the blatant abuses that arise from our current, deformed culture: a man is murdered in broad daylight by police officers, who get away with it because their victim was black; an economy founders due to widespread, reckless fraud by the largest banks in the world, as a result of which people lose their jobs, are defrauded out of their homes, and bankers get away with it because they are rich. These abuses are easy to see. But other forms of suffering arising from our culture's deformation are not so visible. I’m interested in making them visible. But if I don’t lay some groundwork, the pain I show you will look trivial, even frivolous, and it won’t remain visible for long.

One way to manipulate a culture is to alter what is and is not considered important. You can do that through politics, media (either fictional or putatively factual), education, or religion. A coordinated media, running under cartel-like economic conditions, is more than capable of succeeding at this kind of manipulation with relative ease.

Under the most Orwellian circumstances, these alterations can be made almost moment to moment, and no one (apparently) will even remember that we were fighting Eastasia fifteen minutes ago. Under more normal circumstances, including the ones we’re living under now, the alterations are made more subtly, and the mechanism by which they are made is both subtle and simple. You simply show important people (leaders in politics, religion, or commerce) brushing aside a certain concern or topic, and make sure all your media talking heads do the same, with a faint air of world-weary superiority and unmoored contempt.

I say “unmoored” because contempt usually is tied to some reason for its existence; the more evidence backing up the low opinion of a person or thing, the stronger the judgement becomes. But if you’re a propagandist, self-justifying contempt is your brass ring. You don’t want to have to rely on facts, or even on stories, to make your targets seem contemptible; what if they have better facts or better stories than you do? You want the contemptible nature of your target indicated by your choice of words, your tone, and your body language. With these you can make anything--or nothing--the basis of your contempt:

Your tools are not facts—which can be disproven—or stories—which can be upstaged or discredited by other stories. Your tools are first, your own visibility, and second, the tendency of Homo sapiens, in this case rather inaptly named, to look to other Homo sapiens to find out what to believe.

I probably shouldn’t disrespect our species on that account. After all, we are a social species, and it is eminently sensible to expect a social species to check with each other to determine what is real, what is significant, what is good and what is bad. There was probably a time when this tendency saved our species from extinction on a regular basis; many heads are, in fact, often better than one. Unfortunately, once outside of primitive circumstances, this advantage becomes a serious vulnerability. Even we populists must have some hesitation about uncritically accepting a view simply because a lot of people hold it. Too often in human history have a large number of human beings believed lies or nonsense. And so, one of our greatest strengths gives us an Achilles’ heel. Our instinct to look to each other for confirmation creates a kind of safety net of chances to correctly assess a threat or an opportunity, making us far stronger together than apart—but it also makes us vulnerable to manipulation.

If you can impress upon any human being that you speak for the majority, your power and authority will immediately increase. This is particularly true of Americans, who have been brought up to believe that majority opinion is what makes a decision right—or, more accurately, what gives you the right to make a decision. If you can convince Americans that you speak for the majority, they will probably cede authority to you, whether they agree with you or not. They have been trained to do so. This is, by the way, what the Democratic obsession with "centrism" trades on:

In the middle of the road you see the darnedest things
Like fat guys driving 'round in jeeps through the city
Wearing big diamond rings and silk suits
Past corrugated tin shacks full up with kids
Oh man I don't mean a Hampstead nursery
When you own a big chunk of the bloody third world
The babies just come with the scenery

Oh come on baby
Get in the road
Oh come on now
In the middle of the road, yeah

It’s obviously of the greatest importance, then, for a propagandist to convey the notion that she speaks for the majority. So, how do people know, or think they know, who is in the majority? How do we know what the majority believes?

I'd argue that we get our notions of what the majority believes from media: both legacy broadcast media like the television news, and digital media. Even when we rely on social science to tell us what the majority believes, as we do when we read polls, the reports on what the polls mean come to us through the media. It's a rare person who delves into the data or even looks at how the poll's questions are asked. It's easy to see how legacy broadcast media contributes to the construction of a majority every time its favorite politicians need support for a bad policy--or to prepare people to accept a dubious electoral result.

However, legacy media is far less effective than digital media at constructing plausible majorities. Luckily for the cultural engineers, digital media allows for the creation of innumerable personas, meaning that you could have only two or three actual people on your side, and make it look like you have forty or fifty. It also allows for the invisible manipulation of numbers like the number of subscribers or the number of views or the number of “thumbs up” a particular cultural artifact gets--or the number of votes someone gets in an election.

This pretense becomes particularly useful when driving certain topics or people out of public consciousness. As a propagandist, you want to encourage people to form a habit of not paying attention to whatever element of the culture you want to discredit or erase. This habit should be enforced, when necessary, by shaming those who bring the topic or cultural element up in conversation, and it is at this point that looking like you speak for the majority becomes so useful. If the targets believe that such punishment is being handed out by the majority, they will usually begin to self-censor. It’s important that it become a habit, because the propagandist not only wants people to censor themselves, but if possible to do so without noticing they’ve done it.

When it works, both the topic and the fact that it is being erased will fade from the mind’s eye. Then it will fade from public awareness. People will not even remember to ask questions about it.
The topic now resides, not in the unconscious, but in the shadowy unattended hinterland of consciousness. Anyone who brings it up will now receive, at best, puzzled looks even from their intimates, who have largely forgotten how to conceptualize a world which includes that topic or cultural element. One or two decades later, even the fact that people once thought differently will be forgotten. It will be as if it was ever so. And so, propaganda reaches its desired destination: the best of all possible worlds.

Oddly, in the United States, one of the objects that thus fades from awareness is American culture itself. Many Americans act like American culture does not exist.* Garrison Keillor, the writer and narrator of the Lake Wobegon stories, once said that he knew Lake Wobegon was made up, but that what many didn’t realize is that Minnesota was made up too. “I invented it; a lot of people invented it; there is no such state, I hate to be the first one to tell you!” he said to general hilarity. But that’s not what I mean when I say Americans act like their culture does not exist. I don’t mean that Americans recognize their culture to be an invention, an imposition of human beliefs and perceptions onto a physical environment (and other human beings). I mean that often Americans regard not only their culture, but any culture, to be a frivolous concern, hardly fit for discussion except by people who haven’t got real work to do.

We got to install microwave ovens
Custom kitchen deliveries
We got to move these refrigerators
We got to move these color TVs.
That ain’t workin’. That’s the way you do it.
You play the guitar on the MTV.
That ain't workin'. That's the way you do it.
Get your money for nothing and your chicks for free.

I believe we come by this nonsense honestly, for what it’s worth; we have long been a culture that values what is concrete and measurable, material and profitable, over intellectual pursuits such as the arts or humanities. Even the social sciences have suffered disrepute as not being as “real” as the measurable, concrete hard sciences. For that matter, even hard science itself gets stood in the corner when it starts talking about quantum physics and other things that are difficult for ordinary folks to count. If it can’t be subjected to cash-register math, it couldn’t be very important. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t recognize this prejudice for the easily quantifiable in English culture as well, leading me to wonder if perhaps the English colonists brought these ideas to the continent along with smallpox.

Seamus Heaney once said English is “an excellent language to sell pigs in,” and he was right. Of course, that tendency need not be given its head. When that impulse is restrained, the English language is capable of creating forms that are beautiful, useful, and intriguing. But here in the United States, I believe propagandists have nurtured a rather brutal pre-existing preference for the concrete and quantifiable into a tendency to discount and trivialize all cultural, and almost all social concerns. There have even been libertarians in this country who have publicly asserted that there is no such thing as society; that all we see is a random assortment of individual actions, with no cultural beliefs and assumptions and, above all, no social infrastructure allocating and maintaining power.

When I chose to become an English PhD, I was asked to justify my choice of career repeatedly, by just about everyone: from a right-wing high school friend to the taxi driver who drove me to my oral exams. The taxi driver even told me that what I should do is try to become a high school principal. (I hadn’t asked his advice.) Scholarship, especially in the humanities, was an unjustifiable process, a frivolous waste of resources designed to provide the lazy and incompetent with an undeserved haven. Had I said I was studying engineering because I wanted to design nuclear weapons for Lockheed Martin, I’m guessing I would not have been subjected to these cross-examinations—or the advice.

I believe, now, that there is a link between the propaganda presently plaguing my society and the prevalent contempt—because that’s what it was—that I encountered when I chose to study the humanities. If you wanted to re-engineer a culture, wouldn’t it be entirely to your benefit if no one thought the culture worthy of attention—or if they could be convinced there was no such thing as culture in the first place? Doesn’t the contempt for social structures and social concerns, for cultural patterns and artifacts, serve the same purpose for the propagandist that a blackout serves for a bank robber? If something is beneath notice, or doesn’t even exist, how are you going to explain that terrible damage is being done to it? How will you articulate the injury that's being done to you?

*This is not an absolute. It's an attitude widespread enough to create a kind of constant background hum, and it is quite distinct from the attitudes of the seventeenth-century Plymouth Plantation colonists, for example, or the eighteenth-century revolutionists, or even some of the people from the early years of the nineteenth century. Many of them thought they were building a new culture, so of course it mattered to them.

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Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

just some thoughts

just like always, I went to write about something and found I had a whole bunch of other things to say before I could say what I wanted to. Next week, in pt 2, I will hopefully get to it!

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Actually, the issue at stake is patriotism. You must return to your world and put an end to the Commies. All it takes are a few good men.
--Q

Exit polls not involving George W. Bush or Hillary Clinton tend to be quite accurate.
--Doug Hatlem

orlbucfan's picture

@Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal have a PhD in English, CStMS. What area(s) of study? Hope you are well. Rec'd!!

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Some yahoos make me want to change species!

Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

@orlbucfan

I have a secondary area of interest in the American Renaissance, esp. Whitman. I went to grad school with the idea of working in that area, but as soon as I got there, Myra Jehlen, the scholar my advisor thought I should work with, left for another institution. The remaining specialist in the American Renaissance and I did not get along, and that's putting it mildly. At the time, I was in love with Whitman's poetry, and I would probably have done a simple essay on one author if Jehlen had stayed--or if the remaining scholar had not been an exploitative jerk.

So I went to my second area of interest. Many of the ideas that inspired me to study Irish literature fell away under the pressures of writing the dissertation--I was interested in nationalism, in cartography, in the intersection of physical geography with culture, and all that fell away; what was left was a study of how creative authority was conceived from the 1780s to the 1980s, in Britain and Ireland, and how that affected women authors. Images of fertilization and fecundity were at the heart of it--the word "authority" even comes from the Latin word augere, meaning to grow or increase (like a crop in the field). The notion of authors being the fathers or mothers of their texts is related to this, and it played bloody hell with women authors in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries especially.

I got to all this by analyzing their use of flower images to describe female authorship. Once I saw that, it was everywhere. I probably could have made a whole career out of following that image around. I limited the study to the European side of the pond in desperation, not because there weren't a lot of examples of the pattern in the United States, but because my study was, well, "increasing" to a size beyond my capacity.

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Actually, the issue at stake is patriotism. You must return to your world and put an end to the Commies. All it takes are a few good men.
--Q

Exit polls not involving George W. Bush or Hillary Clinton tend to be quite accurate.
--Doug Hatlem

Steven D's picture

@Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal Thanks for giving us this to read. Truth is harsh. We are great at self-deception once the proper programming has been installed,

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"You can't just leave those who created the problem in charge of the solution."---Tyree Scott

magiamma's picture

If you wanted to re-engineer a culture, wouldn’t it be entirely to your benefit if no one thought the culture worthy of attention—or if they could be convinced there was no such thing as culture in the first place?

Culture as social contract. trump is trying to destroy our social contract by keeping the social chaotic and by sowing divisiveness, by pitting minicultures against each other. Divide and conquer. How can we integrate the religious right, for example into understanding that the social contract has to extend over rigid belief systems? Enough people are awake now that there is real momentum. Inertia has been overcome. How to keep it moving?

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Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

@magiamma

I wanted to go, but the essay was way too long already.

Not everybody agrees that American culture doesn't exist, or is unimportant. There is a highly vocal minority which, rather, seeks to defend it. That's what MAGA is all about. Their idea of what American culture *is* is xenophobic, racist, and reductive; they have simplified and idealized American history--and distorted it. It's pretty amazing that anybody who bases their political philosophy on nostalgia like Trump could so assault the social contract that is an artifact of that history, but logic is in short supply these days. Actually, American political ideas have been profoundly, sometimes defiantly illogical for most of the 21st century.

One of the things which is most disturbing to me is that it's often only MAGA types who want to talk about the destruction of the culture. The right has taken possession of the concepts of revolution, tyranny, and brutal subversion of culture; they've styled themselves as the loyal defenders of the social contract and the liberties it provides even as they destroy it. Unfortunately, that means that left-wing analysis of these matters is pretty sparse, and that many liberal and left folks have a knee-jerk response against the idea that there was an authoritarian takeover here that blossomed during the Reagan administrations and bore horrible fruit in the person and administrations of George W. Bush. Meanwhile, the MAGA types have noticed that something terrible is deforming the culture, but most of them seem to have an inability to ascribe the rise of tyranny in this country to anything but the 2008 election, Barack Obama's black skin, and the entrance into our country of a lot of impoverished brown-skinned people from the south. As is typical for their kind, they can't admit a Republican could be to blame for anything, not even George W. Bush, who fucked up so massively that he even drove some Republicans to vote for Obama, much less Ronald Reagan, whom they treat as a secular saint.

You're right about the micro-cultures being mobilized against one another, and it's a bit eerie to see how much they also mirror each other--in everything except the important fact that one set of people are suffering unjust violence and abuse, while the other is defending it--or denying it exists. That's such a crucial fact that people tend to ignore all else or brush it aside as inconsequential...but actually, the similarities between the ways the "left" and "right" think is pretty remarkable.

How do we stop it? I'm not sure. People have to extract themselves from the media machine, to begin with.

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Actually, the issue at stake is patriotism. You must return to your world and put an end to the Commies. All it takes are a few good men.
--Q

Exit polls not involving George W. Bush or Hillary Clinton tend to be quite accurate.
--Doug Hatlem

wendy davis's picture

for now, what comes to mind are:

ambassador craig murray's dictum: "Look where they tell you not to look".

Swiss Policy Research’s: ‘The Propaganda Multiplier; How Global News Agencies and Western Media Report on Geopolitics’

(sorry, no right click brings 'properties', so i can't reduce the size...) and more dire straits:

rec'd, and thank you. as a side note: when you have the time, could you read, then hopefully answer my recent PM to you about books?'

and do update us on kate's health, as well, please?

on edit: so...this will be in Part II? you sure have piqued my curiosity.

But other forms of suffering arising from our culture's deformation are not so visible. I’m interested in making them visible. But if I don’t lay some groundwork, the pain I show you will look trivial, even frivolous, and it won’t remain visible for long.

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Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

@wendy davis

this was the piece I'm most proud of; it needs another edit. It's an annoying thing that happens to me as a writer; I sit down to write something I'm quite motivated to write--and realize there's a whole bunch of stuff I have to explain to myself before I can write it. There's generally no way out but through.

Thank you so much for that link. That is very good information. I need to write about something similar, but perhaps even a little more shocking: Niko House reported on their being two talent agencies in Hollywood that represent journalists, politicians and actors, all under the same roof. I gotta link to that story here sometime soon.

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Actually, the issue at stake is patriotism. You must return to your world and put an end to the Commies. All it takes are a few good men.
--Q

Exit polls not involving George W. Bush or Hillary Clinton tend to be quite accurate.
--Doug Hatlem

wendy davis's picture

@Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal

you may have put your finger on it:

-and realize there's a whole bunch of stuff I have to explain to myself before I can write it. There's generally no way out but through.

your explanations to yourself are very orderly, as in not at all stream-of-consciousness, as i'm prone to. never heard of those hollywood agencies, but many films and teevee shows now glorify both CIA cutouts, the broken windows police commissioner in NYC ('Blue Bloods', 4 or 5 seasons), 'Homeland Security (damn clair danes), Netflix 'the White Helmets', and jay's film analysis an erstwhile café commenter loved. everything's audio at his site's audio, so that leaves me out.

but if there's a USian 'cultural' theme afoot, i'd say its to normalize war, police violence, the Nat Sec agencies, demonize the nations that challenge western hegemony: iran, china, and russia. the only blip in the trajectory we've seen recently may be the anti-police state protests, but of course those have already been co-opted grotesquely to the Nth degree.

and i think you'd hinted at identity politics under Obomba still raging today.

i'd also add to my other comment that i'd advise you to write for yourself, not your audience. did melville or steinbeck (even kingsolver?) write for their audiences?

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lotlizard's picture

@wendy davis  
not Islands-centric private-detective-dom and crime-solving as in the originals, but rather CIA-adjacent covert ops.

I watched episodes (on German private TV, which catapults the U.S. “disinfo-tainment” point of view to Germans 24/7) where the story nominally started in Honolulu, but soon the protagonists were jetting off to North Korea or Colombia, on secret military or shadowy private air transport, to carry out their noble deeds of Deep State derring-do.

Disgusting propaganda, if you ask me.

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wendy davis's picture

@lotlizard

expect when you watch, is the camp factor enjoyable? to me, that's often the case, as with some films the big batch of DVDs our new neighbors lent us.

but wait! don't they know that colombia is part of NATO by now? that august organization can't make up its mind whether its an Official Member, an Aspiring Member (as w/ ukraine), or Under Nato's Umbrella'. the gist of course is that cia/special ops can run raids and drone assassination attempts on that pinko maduro in VZ. and their useful ports, of course.

sorry, but the VZ analysis newsletter just arrived, and i'm agape, aghast, and agog at some of the news on the coup governments in VZ and bolivia.

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Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

@wendy davis

But other forms of suffering arising from our culture's deformation are not so visible. I’m interested in making them visible. But if I don’t lay some groundwork, the pain I show you will look trivial, even frivolous, and it won’t remain visible for long.

this will be in part two, but I fear that even this long, rambling "groundwork" I just laid will not be enough to prevent people from trivializing the topic. In fact, these days it's easy to trivialize any problem or suffering if it isn't immediately, physically violent, and Americans, in particular, are primed to view only physical, easily measurable things as "real." The largest group of Americans who dissent from that view is the religious right, and they're little help.

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9 users have voted.

Actually, the issue at stake is patriotism. You must return to your world and put an end to the Commies. All it takes are a few good men.
--Q

Exit polls not involving George W. Bush or Hillary Clinton tend to be quite accurate.
--Doug Hatlem

wendy davis's picture

@Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal

you'd alluded to some sort of suffering you're going thru on your recent 'something old...etc' post. maybe you'd added: 'in my culture'? but here's the thing, amiga, even if you fear that your readers might trivialize it, it's of epic importance to share our own stories, especially our pains and fears, i believe.

i agree, though, most folks may find (and maybe define) 'The Real' in concrete terms, but the images our personal stories can draw may last a long, long time, and might be seen and felt again...after they keep popping into our conscious minds from our unconscious, semi-trivialized/rejected minds.

i'm trying not to say: 'fuck them if they can't get it', but i really don't mean that. but the truth of our own stories, our arts, our imaginations, even our daytime and nighttime dreams...matter a hella lot, methinks.

it's embarrassing to say now, but at one time i'd hoped to have some of my stories and vignettes published in a magazine or two. i'd even bought a used copy of the chicago manual of style tome, or whatever it's called...to learn the Rules. i finally let it go to...blog online, and by now in my early dementia, all i can manage is copy/pasting others' work. Pfffft.

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enhydra lutris's picture

@wendy davis

of people who will probably ignore it, dismiss it, or consider it to be propaganda, but it's a pretty good intro to the problem of the post-evidence world, and one must at least try.

be well and have a good one.

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That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

wendy davis's picture

@enhydra lutris

i've gotten all tangled up in blue as the swiss research cnter seems to be arranged differently by now. but there used to be all sorts of (kinda sorta tabs/subjects in english), but i did finally remember this one: 'The American Empire and its Media', July 2017; Updated: May 2020

...partially because it featured the power of the Council on Foreign Relations.

i'd been about to note how many hollywood stars are on the individual members list, but i think i'd read every name, but these were not on the list: don cheadle, george clooney, angela jolie, so i'd bingled externally and found:

Sudan, Celebrities, and American Foreign Policy', December 6, 2010, cfr.com and there they were. ergo: they aided in the split of north and south sudan, and depending on where one sits, it was about the christians v. muslims, or the power of Oil. the christian south sudan has all of the oil. fancy that.
.

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magiamma's picture

@wendy davis
Just forwarded to folks.

So where oh where does one get real info.

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wendy davis's picture

@magiamma

but allow me to apologize to both you and @enhydra lutris (in my usual haste) in your last hot air post that: if anyone at C99% could have have save Gaia from the continuing out-of-control climate chaos it would have been you, darlin' dear.

but yes, i fear that it's far too late by now, and the US is only a small part of the global village, even post-lockdown.

mr. wd and i have a date for PBS sunday night, so i need to bow out.

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enhydra lutris's picture

You had me laughing out loud with this one:

Seamus Heaney once said English is “an excellent language to sell pigs in,” and he was right.

I wish I had been hip to that quotation in college. I particularly recall trying to explain the interaction and interoperation of our weltanschauung upon our perceived umwelt and vice-versa without undue reliance upon the original. I mean, isn't English just jumped up bastardized low German? Why then was I stuck with a mediocre simulacrum like "frame of reference" or "totality of one's surroundings"? Ah well, apologies for the digression.

Without getting unduly snaky about "American" culture (It would be a wonderful idea, etc.) I suspect that there is an undertone of casting off the old, previous culture to replace it with a new homegrown one, right down to how to use dinner utensils, that somehow morphed and, since Bernays et. al, was guided into a sort of fetishism of the novel crossed with an iconoclasm that devolved into a smash and burn nihilism, at least to some extent.

be well and have a good one

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That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

Azazello's picture

When we say something is "Orwellian" we are actually talking about the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin since the novel 1984 was inspired by, and is largely a description of, that historical period. I quote now from Engineers of the Soul by Frank Westerman about a meeting of selected poets and authors which took place at the home of Maxim Gorky on October 26, 1932.

Gorky welcomes his guests at the foot of the cascading staircase; Pyotr takes their coats and shows them to the dining room. The writers are seated in a jumble of chairs to the right of the long table. When at last everyone is present, the door opens again and Stalin walks in.
...
After this floundering start, Stalin, who has so far listened in silence as he puffs his pipe, takes command. 'Our tanks are worthless,' he begins, 'if the souls who must steer them are made of clay. This is why I say: the production of souls is more important that that of tanks...'
Here he pauses briefly, probably in response to looks of incomprehension. What is he trying to say?
Stalin goes on: 'Someone here has noted that writers must not sit still, that they must be familiar with the ways of life in their own country. Man is reshaped by life itself, and those of you here must assist in reshaping his soul. That is what is important, the production of human souls. And that is why I raise my glass to you, writers, to the engineers of the soul.'

See also Socialist realism.

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Cassiodorus's picture

is the department in the university in which articulating your thoughts counts as a public matter. Thus the essay, the poem, the novel. Elsewhere in the university thought is privatized, and "thought accumulation" mimics capital accumulation as it operates in the world of money. Ben Agger wrote a piece on this: "Academic Writing as Real Estate." The point of most of academia is to subordinate communication to autonomous processes of value which rule people's lives under capitalism. You collect course credits toward degrees and thereupon to earn money as a tenured professor, that's the game, and you don't want anyone else in on your turf, so you make your communications as opaque as possible while actually communicating with a tiny group that is already well-paid so they're not going to covet your possessions. The university thus counts as a scam. English departments threaten this tidy order, which is why they had to be turned into the ridiculous parodies one reads about in the novels of Julie Schumacher.

The communication populists think they have something in departments of Communication, too: the public speaking class. But nobody respects a speech delivered in a classroom. I hated teaching public speaking at The Ohio State University, mostly to a bunch of white brats whose temporary aspirations in life were to get the degrees and attend the football games. The Black students knew that attending my class was an opportunity. I liked them the most.

When I chose to become an English PhD, I was asked to justify my choice of career repeatedly, by just about everyone: from a right-wing high school friend to the taxi driver who drove me to my oral exams. The taxi driver even told me that what I should do is try to become a high school principal. (I hadn’t asked his advice.) Scholarship, especially in the humanities, was an unjustifiable process, a frivolous waste of resources designed to provide the lazy and incompetent with an undeserved haven. Had I said I was studying engineering because I wanted to design nuclear weapons for Lockheed Martin, I’m guessing I would not have been subjected to these cross-examinations—or the advice.

See, what's really justifiable are the government's great handouts of money to weapons industries. Nothing says "value" like threatening someone else with death. So, yeah, capitalism. "Scholarship" might also have been unjustifiable depending upon what the university wanted at any particular time and place, by the way. Back in the Nineties in English you wrote a dissertation that was a big long paper, burning with righteous wrath, but which was invariably about postmodernism and some other set of works of fiction or poetry nobody else wanted to read because academic real estate you know. But scholarship can be redeemed, whereas capitalism not so much.

We are back to value as an autonomous process.

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"There is no good future for the US if neoliberalism, and neoliberal elites, continue to rule." -- Ian Welsh