Archive for the ‘Weber’ Category

Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think)

December 19, 2016

Louis Prima – Enjoy Yourself

Few things have depressed me more this semester than reading Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Once I understood what Weber was saying about the ‘Iron Cage’ and how people are forced into doing what they must do in order to survive, it became apparent to that there are many meaningless structures of power that control my life that have little to do with my actual likes, dislikes, preferences, dreams, and fantasies, etc. The main structure around which everything else revolves is that I must find some way to create capital so that I can be a productive member of society and contribute to the good of the whole while sustaining myself. It doesn’t really matter how or what I choose to do in order to do so, but I must do it. This means that I, like many others, will need to get a job. The system does not care whether or not I like it; if I want to survive and live comfortably, it is a necessity. I find myself privileged enough that I have been given the chance to go into music, but at the end of a lifetime, I will still have worked very hard against my will for most of my life in order to sustain a baseline level of living.

To support and supply this structure, other structures of power prop up this one. School, government, taxation, social media, consumerism, health care, organized religion, and many, many more aspects of daily life have evolved in order to ensure that I enter and maintain a state of productivity to benefit the good of the whole. Together, these structures, which for the most part are arbitrary and apathetic to my existence, form Weber’s ‘Iron Cage’ mentioned earlier. At the end of the Spirit of Capitalism, Weber leaves the critique for the reader to ponder – He offers no key we may use to escape the cage.

Upon reflection, it becomes clear to me that we have two choices. We can either do nothing, or actively resist. It does not matter whether or not you accept your fate; your fate has already been decided for you. That doesn’t mean you can’t resist in futility and create meaning in vain. To me, the best way to resist meaninglessness is to find meaning in pleasure and pain. The Protestant Ethic (if it were some sort of written code of conduct) would say that one should avoid earthly pleasures as to not use your time for anything other than productivity. Nay, I say! Equating your productivity with your worth is dehumanizing and objectifying, and ultimately morally degrading. Philosophical Hedonism, in which the goal is to maximize pleasure over pain, is the key. Maybe it doesn’t free us of the cage, as we all still have to work, but it makes life inside a lot more tolerable. I’m not just talking about sex and chocolate here; there are all kinds of pleasures – watching sunsets, going on hikes, smelling flowers, holding hands with someone. If people could stop feeling so guilty for enjoying the things in their lives that made them happy, the world could be a much better place. In the words of Keely Smith, “You only think of dollar bills tied neatly in a stack – But when you kiss a dollar bill it doesn’t kiss you back!”

Re: Some Thoughts on Facebook and Society

October 31, 2016

The growth of social media, especially in the last decade, has detrimentally affected the way that humans with internet access interact with one another. As mentioned here, the negative effects of the normalization of social media are far reaching, and include the trivialization of human relationships, the collection and publication of private information, the increase in reliance on social media for entertainment and distraction, an increase in vapid and vain self-interest, and an overall loss of meaning and purpose in everyday life. This is the result of the destruction of the meaning of social media over time, much in the same way that Weber described the protestant work ethic lost its god and replaced it with money over the course of several generations. Whereas social media was originally created to bring people together and keep them connected, over time it has resulted in the inhibition of real life interaction, leaving a meaningless structure that many people feel incapable of escaping. How many times have you walked down the street and seen people of all ages staring silently at their screens, not looking where they’re going, and not being present in the world around them?

Although I myself am sometimes guilty of the act that I just described, I aim to combat these negative effects in my life without abandoning the social media on which I rely. To do so, I have decided to follow a set of rules that I’ve come up with to dictate how I act on and in what capacity I will use the social media platforms of Instagram and Facebook.

To start with, Instagram: I have only one account which is set to private mode. This means that everyone who wishes to see my content must request my permission in order to see and comment on what I post. I allow anyone that I know in real life to follow me if they so choose, but no one else; there are countless spam accounts littering Instagram that will try to follow me in order to collect my information. I am very picky with whom I follow on Instagram; I only follow close friends or acquaintances with which I feel that I share a particular artistic aesthetic. To that end, I also am very particular with what I post. It must fit in with my personal brand image (my labor is a commodity after all) and it must be somewhat professional as a matter of personal taste and safety.

As far as Facebook goes, I am very strict. I have ‘unfollowed’ the vast majority of the 800-some ‘friends’ that I have on Facebook, (a lengthy process that ended up being worth it) as well as all of the pages that I’ve ‘liked.’ I choose only to follow the few people who are closest to me, as they are the only people that I genuinely care about hearing what they have to say on a regular basis. If I feel the urge to check up on a distant acquaintance that I met in Wisconsin in 2009, I can do so by simply searching their name and seeing their profile, but I don’t need to know their boring intimate details in real time on a daily basis. As for the content that I post, I try to keep it as professional and relevant as possible. I use Facebook nowadays primarily as a professional networking tool and also as a way for my family to keep tabs on me when I am away from home. This means that if I wouldn’t say it to my grandmother or to a professor, (or to a potential employer) I definitely wouldn’t say it on Facebook.

I find that these methods have allowed me to regain some semblance of control over how much I rely on social media by allowing me to separate my private life from my public online persona. In other words, I don’t feel that I must use my phone in order to connect with others. Although I am still very much reliant on social media, it is now for maintaining professional contacts and interactions (in conjunction with good old fashioned email) and keeping in touch with geographically distant family members, rather than providing for the bulk of all of my social interactions. Call me a traditionalist, but I believe that real human interactions are more valuable than artificial cyber ones.

Self Regulation: Weber vs Foucault

December 8, 2014

In this post I would like to discuss the similarities between Weber and Foucault.  Recall that Weber  came up with with the theory of the spirit of capitalism which motivated one to be more diligent and consider  opportunity costs when seeking accumulation of profit. This is deeply rooted in a Protestant ethic that work is valued above all and that good behavior, rationality, and efficiency leads to good credit which therefore leads to money, the semblance of virtue. Thus, this forces the individual hyper organize, discipline and observe oneself in order to effectively gain capital. Foucault has similar aspects in his theory  that true power displays itself not in authority, but in the authority one has when law that originally external has been organized in such a way that the subject internalized, and was able to inflict the law on oneself, so to speak, thus creating a state of heightened self regulation.

Both Weber and Foucault have a strong emphasis on the idea that when one is discipled enough to have control and audit one’s actions in a way that  makes . Weber’s hypothesis on the Protestant work ethic claims that self monitoring must exist in order to satisfy one’s material needs. The Protestant work ethic itself originated in the idea that in order to glorify God one must fill up the day with work such as manual labor and prayer. Since the religious aspect of the is no longer in context in our society today, the approach towards work has remained. Effectiveness has to be internalized in order to survive a harsh, competitive capitalist society. Every minute wasted  not working results in the loss of material gain, therefore micromanagement of one’s own time results.

Foucault’s ideas on self monitoring is the result of his idea of power that is instilled through organization of people, such as the organization  of prisoners in the panopticon. Eventually, because of the structure of the building each prisoner is forced to self examine one’s behavior because he knows that he is being watched by a force he himself cannot see. No matter what the behavior is, there is no escape from the observer. Even when the system of cruel and unusual physical punishment has ceased the panopticon structure of prisons remained and with that remained the institution of constant observation. In rehabilitation time tables, for example,  the observation and organization of the prisoner’s time has proven to be one of the strongest ways to instill self monitoring. When the prison is given time to reflect and analyze one’s actions he must do so in a specific context which is usually that which is presented by the person in  charge of the activity, thus the person in power. Therefore when constructing the time table the individual who is constructing it must include free time for the prisoner to give the idea that he was granted momentary freedom, when in fact the freedom itself is limited by time and the person in power.

Furthermore Foucault’s repressive hypothesis is another example of self monitoring due to the censorship. The idea that sexuality must be repressed triggers two societal  reactions. On one hand, the repression results in the lack of overt conversation on the topic thus the self observation and prevention of one’s desire to reference to the subject in any way. Or, more commonly, discourse heightens which  makes the people participating in the discourse aware of their own actions and the way the information is presented, in order to conform with the appropriate presentation of information about intimate activity. In either reaction the repression that each individual must  cope with has been internalized after years of societal conditioning i.e. institutions to prevent allegedly illicit behavior.

Both theorists have a strong emphasis on self observation and extreme organization. While Weber is concerned  with the organization of time and gaining capital, Foucault focuses on self observation as the result of legal punishment/legal rehabilitation.  Weber is deals with the translation of organization of time from a religious context to a capitalist context. Capitalism itself is the power which forces the people to behave in a materialistic way;  one begins  to construct a tight, coordinated schedule in order to survive and earn his place in the world. Foucault present the idea of self regulation that results from the ultimate control of power which originated from the so-called freedom that it grants its people. Both theories show similar patterns in which there is a critique of artificially latent power – capitalism supposedly gives us the freedom to choose to how to gain/spend money, and the power involved in time tables/legal systems gives prisoners ‘leisure time.’ The relationship between the observer and the observed is blurred when the observed internalize a constant, critical self analysis.



Competitive Vs. Non-Competive Environments

December 5, 2014

This is a post going way back to Weber and the concept of work efficiency.  It is in response to a comment Sam made on my previous blog post.  Sam brought up the idea of noncompetitive gamified environments, and how they might be preferable over the alternative cutthroat competitive environment. Here is a link to the comment

Your comment on a non-competitive gamified work environment raises an interesting point.  The competitive environment certainly pits people against each other and the objectives become focused around winning rather than simply doing good work.  Obviously, when two people are competing to win, good work will inevitably follow. Yet there is certainly a moral conflict that occurs in this type of environment.  People are inclined to feel that we should be communal and cooperative with one another rather than competitive.

Non-competitive environments generally feel much more secure.  People have more control over their work and lifestyle. Although it is much more pleasant, non-competition can never achieve the same level of productivity and efficiency as the alternative.  Our Concept of Power class incorporates a non-competitive system.  We are given assignments which we then can complete it to receive the reward.  Other classmate’s achievements do not serve as a factor in this work-reward system. On the other hand,  if our professor were to add a competitive aspect and offer double points for the best final paper, the quality of writing would skyrocket among the entire class.

So why isn’t our class structured in this way?  If competition instigates higher quality work, wouldn’t professor Mackin want us to battle royal in order to produce the epitome of student papers?  There are two main reasons: the natural desire to avoid conflict, and the harsh impact competition has on those who fail.  Competitiveness is in essence conflict.  Competition can be enjoyable when put in non-serious aspects of life.  But in the context of work, where there is a bit more at stake, competition gains considerable risk.  In the same way people desire to avoid conflict in Hobbes’ “state of nature” scenario, people are unwilling to enter into competitive work so as to maintain a sense of security.  The other significantly negative effect competition can have is the way it disables the lower performing half.  Since winning is the central goal in competition, those who cannot perform well in their work, or even just those who have low self esteem can become completely unproductive. If someone were to preemptively make the judgement that their own work wouldn’t be good enough, than competition would actually cause them to become less efficient.

So it is a trade off.  I think that the competitive environment– productive but seemingly unhealthy for the soul– is certainly a more bourgeoisie tactic, and con-competitive work can be seen as a more traditionalist tactic.

On a final note, music finds itself in an interesting paradox regarding this subject.  As much as I hate the fact, we all know music has become one of the most competitive professions. Yet I can’t think of anything more cooperative.  We work so hard in order to beat out the competition, but when it comes to performing we reach a deeper level of communication with our colleagues.  Music is very passionate and soulful, yet saturated with cutthroat attitudes.  I think because of competition, musicianship has reached a higher level than ever before, but i’m curious to hear peoples opinions as to what extent music suffers from this competitive vibe.

Weber’s Traditionalist in Portlandia

October 30, 2014

Thinking back to Weber for a bit, I’d like to point out a pretty interesting thing I found in one of my favorite shows that relates to some things he’s talked about.

A Weberian traditionalist believes that they will work until they can achieve the things they want. When they reach their goal, they stop working and enjoy the life that they have made for themselves. Many will also rationalize their time – plan out every aspect of their life and figure out what they need to do and when they need to do it in order to reach their goals and aspirations.

A satirical demonstration of this kind of traditionalism can be found in the second season of Portlandia.  In the very beginning of the episode, Brandon and Michelle Marston stand in the kitchen of their home and present posters and charts to their young son, Grover, about his academic life and success. They are applying for a special pre school that they believe will create the perfect life for him. To demonstrate this, they present charts and explain to him what can happen to him if he gets in, as well as if he doesn’t. Their ultimate belief is that if their son Grover is accepted to the Shooting Star Preschool, eventually he will be successful enough to buy his own Ferrari and whatever else he wants. However, if Grover is not accepted, he will set himself up for a life of failure.

view the clip here

The traditionalist idea here: If we get a credible education, we can succeed in whatever we want and maintain a comfortable life, and as a result, work until we achieve these goals and spend the rest of our life enjoying the life we’ve created for ourselves. This clip can be seen as an over-the-top example of Weber’s traditionalist “rationalization of time”. Grover’s parents also go as far as making a promotional video for their son to bring to the pre school’s interview. I’m sure that a lot of parents may have visions of what their child can achieve, but few would go to the lengths that Brandon and Michelle Marston did.  Reading Weber’s ideas on traditionalism and rationalization of time, along with watching this particular episode of Portlandia, helped me better understand his explanations of these concepts. It was also entertaining to see this idea demonstrated in such a ridiculous and satirical fashion.

With that said, I present two questions to you:
-Do you think that the education system in our country, by creating options like attending private pre schools, instill this idea in our parents and in our youth?

-Additionally, do you think the American dream was founded on traditionalist principles like this, and as a result, could that be why some of us find this clip especially funny?

Gamifying the World- The Link Between Gamification and Capitalism

October 13, 2014

In recent modern day society there has been a peculiar new obsession with gamifying each aspect of our lives;  Classrooms, sales, small businesses…  Gamification is growing and becoming imbedded into the more practical aspects of life.  It’s an unusual phenomenon.  In this blog post I want to relate what we have talked about in class to gamification, providing a viewpoint of why this might be happening and a couple different perspectives as to what this means.

So what exactly is Gamification?  Essentially, it is turning everyday activities into games.  Gamification usually involves a point system.  That is, doing good work will earn you more points and doing sub-satisfactory will earn you less.  It might reward a student in a class for achieving a certain pre-set goal (the same structure as our “Concept of Power” class).  It also incorporates competition,  Using co-workers and colleagues as measurements of ones own success. Competition has always been an inherent part of both human nature and games.  Having employees or teams compete creates a drive and a passion for higher performance. The overall result from gamification is a heightened work ethic.  People become more passionate, efficient, and work harder.

In Chattanooga, TN,  a young up and coming company has already hopped on this idea.  Ambition, also known as “fantasy football for sales teams,” helps other companies “Gamify” their workspace.  Using their computer and phone software, companies are given the customized lay-out needed to effectively turn work into a game, and ultimately create a more efficient work-force.  They use peer competition, scores,  teams, and a leader board  system. Ambition has found much success in this industry as well.  They have won awards, and also secured some pretty substantial clients.  You can learn more about Ambition on their website here.

What is it about this concept of gamification that is so appealing and effective?  In a world where work has become monotonous, industrious, and autonomous, one could say that gamifying people’s lives returns a lost sense of accomplishment.  People need a relevant goal to achieve in order to feel passionate about what they do, and games help inspire that.  However, In Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the “Spirit” of Capitalism, the author uses “the machine” as a unique analogy that might serve as an excuse to why people prefer games over work.

The “machine” as Weber describes it arose from asceticism– with its radical view on efficiency and productivity.  As time passed, however, the spirit of asceticism left, while its ethos did not.  The religious drive that helped this lifestyle become complete and balanced has disappeared with time.  What society is left with is the machine– an unstoppable, inescapable influence over mankind which forces those born into it to adjust with the ways in which society is run.  The hard-working, profit-producing spirit of capitalism still remains, as Weber states “‘doing ones job’ cannot be directly linked to the highest spiritual and cultural values.” (Weber 121).

From this viewpoint, we can see how gamifying might be a coping mechanism for one’s lack of purpose in society.  Humans are trapped in this mechanical society, but no longer are able to make work a part of their inherent values.  As a result, working loses its meaning, and people begin to half-heartedly do their jobs.  Gamification returns the meaning to work by giving work a more relevant factor.  Through achievement and competition, gamifying peoples lives makes them feel in control and effectively battles the machine which Weber describes.

Another interesting, somewhat funny, viewpoint that should be considered is from that of a Marxist.  This is a pretty obvious point, but not one people may think about often; that a company like Ambition serves only the bourgeoisie by re-sparking the good little capitalist in all the proletarians of society; all for the sole purpose of making more profit for themselves. The illusion that gamification’s purpose is to make our lives more pleasant is only a front for an opportunity to make large corporations more money.  I mean….. the slogan of Ambition IS “Ambition makes companies more money.”  Moreover, not only is Ambition serving the bourgeoisie, but they themselves are making a huge profit off of their business, creating a classic, ironic circle of bourgeoisie winningness.

Personally, I chose to write about this because I feel gamification, on some level truly does have a connection to the trapped state in which lower working classes are found. Obviously my thoughts are up to interpretation.  Whether gamification is a coping mechanism to deal with the way in which society is run, or simply another economic tool to benefit the bourgeoisie, or both, there is something about the relation between gamifying work and our society as a whole that is relevant to us and fascinating.  Please comment and share your own opinions of this subject!

Marx, Weber, and Syria

March 21, 2012

Post by Emily Park

The current conflict in Syria presents a horrifying picture of the lengths to which a repressive regime will go in an effort to protect its power and authority, but at the same time it reflects the similarly powerful motives of those who have decided that they can no longer live under a system which denies them the most basic of human rights.  An entrenched ruling class is fighting tooth and nail to keep its people from realizing any of the basic elements of a democracy.  The news stories and YouTube and cell phone videos paint a terrifying picture of brutality and desperation.

At the same time, I see this conflict as presenting a forum in which the divergent social and economic views of Marx and Weber are playing out.  I tried to imagine what it would be like to have a news program or panel, on which both could appear and like today’s “talking heads” offer their views on the conflict, its origins and the likely result from the conflict.  I am sure it would be an interesting commentary and debate, and I believe it would be something like the following.

Marx’s view of the conflict would be informed by his very uncompromising opinion of the inevitability of class conflict.  Marx would see the grass roots opposition to Assad and his ruling class and the rich beneficiaries of this system as reflective of the working class rising up against the entrenched powers.  In Syria, one family has run the country for decades, and an entrenched economic aristocracy supports the family.  Power is held ruthlessly by the few, who control the political and economic realm.  All others are subordinate to this ruling class.  The so-called “Arab Spring” generally and the uprising in Syria specifically are the result of the proletariat rising up against their masters and seeking to take control of economic and political power.  The vicious repression would be what Marx would anticipate, but he would also believe that the sheer numbers of the oppressed would ultimately overcome and defeat Assad.

Weber would certainly have a more subtle view of the conflict.  He would find much to consider in the religious history in the Middle East, particularly as it reflects the centuries old divisions among Muslims and the Sunni, Shia and other sects.  I suspect that Weber would be very hesitant to consider the developments in Syria in isolation from the rebellions in Egypt, Yemen, and Tunisia.  He would also be conscious about how the division between the Sunni and Shia have been at the heart of much of the conflict among and within the Arab states in the Middle East for centuries now.  The complexities of politics in the Middle East, and the role of religious strife and divisions in Middle east politics, would persuade Weber that predicting the outcome of the strife is much more difficult than Marx would claim.

Again, I think that both would appreciate and identify the “darkness and pessimism” that pervade the Middle East, and which frustrate the hopes of many for peace, democracy and religious freedom.  However, I think Marx would see the rising tide of the inevitable revolution, while Weber would see the complicated playing out of difficult religious divisions on the existing social order.

Some Thoughts on Facebook and Society

March 7, 2012

In class we talked about how “breaking out of the system” is impossible because all of your actions out of the system are affected by the system. It was mentioned that you cannot leave society and live off the land without paying property taxes or risk living on the streets or going to jail. I believe that through the creation of social networks this is the modern creation of a social new system that we eventually will not be able to break out of. I recently deactivated my facebook and have already had to make small changes within my life to compensate for the lost social connections. For example it is more difficult for me to schedule rehearsals with my chamber group because we used to communicate over facebook. It has also somewhat negatively affected my social life because so many events are planned on facebook rather than in real life. On a larger scale, for advertising purposes companies have created their own facebook and twitter fan pages that people can “follow” or “like.”

Facebook was created in 2004 and already it has built up a “community” of roughly 850 million users and that number is still growing. Originally it was created for college students but now you can be as young as 13 and have a facebook. As the younger generation grows up with these facebooks it will eventually become mandatory to participate in some form of social networking. One of the reasons why social networking has exploded is because of the creation of the smart phone. Facebook is easier to access through the use of smart phones because it is easily portable and user friendly. Most phones are able to show you your facebook news feed as well as pool other people’s facebook information into your contact list. The smart phone is making facebook more convenient and easier to access for its users. While the smart phone is making facebook more convenient, it is also making not having a facebook less convenient. Because facebook is becoming so wide spread it may be difficult to live without one.

People’s creation of social networking is in a way creating a meaningless system that will eventually be impossible for us to break out of. We could compare the creation of social networks to the creation of capitalism through Calvinism by saying that originally the Calvinist ethos was geared towards glorifying God but eventually that aspect of glorifying God was lost and now we have a capitalist society in which people work pointlessly just to work for the money. The purpose of why we work is now gone and is now replaced with greed which goes against Calvinist beliefs. One could argue that facebook was created to make socializing with others easier but now we are spending too much time socializing in a meaningless self idolizing online world instead of spending time off the internet in the real world with real people. What  was meant to make socializing easier for people is now creating a barrier between online life and real life. Instead of spending time outside of our homes with people, we spend hours on the computer chatting or tweeting things. We spend time reading the news feed about our five hundred plus facebook friends when in relality we only have personal contact with about a handful of them. We are so busy with what is going on in our smart phones and in our lap tops that we forget to look around at what is happening in real life.

Capitalist Beavers and the Salieri Effect

February 28, 2012

If you’re ever in the mood for an entertaining, offensive and quietly insightful movie, watch any animated picture from the Classic Disney era. Weber’s conception of the capitalist spirit (the modern ethic that values above all the rational generation of profit for its own sake) reminded me of one in particular – Lady and the Tramp (1958). In the film, the protagonist – Lady – is framed by two grammatically challenged Siamese cats for the vandalism of her masters’ house. The owner of the cats responds by muzzling poor Lady, causing her to run away. She is rescued by the eponymous Tramp, whose street-smart instincts lead them to the zoo where he thinks they’ll find someone to remove the muzzle.

There, they find just the trick: a beaver busily chipping away at a sycamore. The scene is short, so I recommend you watch it yourself (2’27” in video below). This beaver is a respectable fellow. He is dedicated to and takes pride in his work, the maintenance and expansion of his dam. He works efficiently and is distracted by nothing, much less the petty concerns of two canines (“Do you realize every second, 70 centimeters of water is wasted over that spillway?”). One gets the impression that this beaver’s life revolves around his dam. However, the reason behind this beaver’s obsession is not revealed. The function of a beaver dam is to provide access to food and protection from predators. This beaver lives in a zoo, where he has no predators and where his basic nutritional needs are satisfied by humans. The conclusion we are left to draw is that he builds the dam for its own sake. As Weber might put it, “the [beaver] exists for the sake of the [dam] and not the reverse”, and he possesses (or is possessed by) the capitalist spirit or whatever the beaver equivalent might be. The absurdity of this beaver’s life and life purpose mirrors that of the modern capitalist’s.

(This said, even wild beavers apparently do not build dams for the sake of self-preservation. It is the sound of a running river which compels beavers to build dams, regardless of whether they actually need the food or protection that these provide. It would seem that the ethical impulse Weber claims drives modern capitalism is substituted, in the case of beavers, for an evolutionary one. Both systems of motivation, however, can lead to absurd results.)

It’s interesting that, in this film (and I think in many other products of popular culture), the character that embodies the capitalist spirit is not a major player and is not even necessarily portrayed in a positive light. Here, it is the Tramp that the audience is supposed to love and what he represents is something close to the antithesis of the beaver. His title says it all: he’s homeless, he doesn’t work, he begs for food, he spends his nights chasing tail and his days chasing chickens. Weber might say that he lacks a calling and that he does nothing but pursue spontaneous, unprofitable forms of pleasure. However, the film emphasizes the undeniable charm associated with the Tramp’s nonchalance, his improvisatory lifestyle, and his freedom. He’s a real Lady-killer. He does not appeal to the capitalist ethos, yet he is an entirely sympathetic and respectable character both in the eyes of characters in the film and the audience. As Peggy pithily puts it in the classic pound sequence later in the film, “He’s a tramp, but they love him.”

I don’t think that this is an uncommon phenomenon. In Forman’s film adaption of Amadeus (1984), for example, it is Salieri who is hard-working and who pledges celibacy and “every hour of [his] life” to God in order to become a great composer. Mozart, while he too takes his music seriously, is very rarely seen at work and is too lazy and impatient to accept students. Instead we see him spend most of his time at parties and around women. The effortlessness of his creative process (whose authenticity is not really the question here) is a point of emphasis throughout the film. Yet Mozart is, no doubt, the hero of the story, the one the audience is supposed to respect and admire. Salieri, on the other hand, is the embodiment of petty envy, mediocrity and impotence.

If, as Weber says, the capitalist spirit is such a powerful, organizing force in modern society, why isn’t it glorified in our culture? The religious fervor that nurtured this ethos died long ago. Has the ethos itself finally followed suit?

Mass Protests

March 21, 2010

Post by Gabe Condon

The theorists we have studied thus far all seem to emphasize that the true power lies within the masses (the people).  Marx argues that the proletariat must break out of from under the power of the bourgeoisie.  Weber tells us how the Protestants took power collectively by individually having the Protestant ethic.  However, both theorists, in different ways acknowledge that there are other sources of power operating in society than those which come directly from the people themselves.  Marx’s idea of systemic power is very important in the pre-communist stages of society.  In fact, it represents a power that controls everything.  To get rid of this power, the entire economic and social system needs to be completely overturned.  Weber, while acknowledging that it is the people with the protestant ethic who create their own position of power, also puts God in a position of power, as he is the drive for all of the people’s activities.  Furthermore, Weber cites the power that replaces God as society has evolved.  This power is similar to Marx’s systemic power.  It is the “iron cage” that the people have created for themselves that generates this sense of meaninglessness.  This leads to the class stratification and exploitation that both theorists argue occurs in the capitalist system.

It seems like the most principal consequence of this social evolution is the separation of the upper class and the middle/lower classes.  Marx explains how, for the bourgeoisie to make a profit, they must exploit the proletariat, which only expands this class divide.  I believe that this concept is evident in the ineffectiveness of mass protests today.  The separation of people in power from those who are not in power is what makes most protests, pickets, walks, and strikes completely ineffective.  This is because the people who are doing the protesting are usually not in power.  If they were, they could just change the laws themselves.  These mass protests are, in effect, a plea from the masses to those people in power.  These kinds of protests are never guaranteed to have an effect.  The only way that a group of the underclass could guarantee a consequence is to have some leverage or some way of assuming power.

This is largely the reason why the marches protesting the war in Iraq were very ineffective.  The people did not have any leverage on the government.  They could walk all they wanted, but until the people assumed some power, no change would be made.  And little change was made.  This growing stratification of classes can also account for the relative effectiveness of protests in the past, say in the 1960’s, as compared to today.  The classes have recently become so separated that they do not listen to one another as they once did.  The people in power simply do not care if a few people from the lower class walk on Washington.  The government officials do not feel threatened by them and the upper/middle classes, while feeling slightly sympathetic, do not care enough to actually do anything.  They are living comfortably, so why should they make the effort to change something that will not affect them?  This is one of the key consequences of this class division; many people are living in comfort while some are living in terribly dire conditions.  The classes do not relate to each other and act solely in their own interest.  This is a major change that has happened in recent years which I believe has contributed to the ineffectiveness of mass protests.

Besides these overarching social changes, there are other related changes in our society that I think have also recently made mass protests ineffective.   Changes in technology and media that have occurred in the past few decades have contributed to this.  There is a huge emphasis on money, aesthetic value, comfort, and laziness in the media these days that seems to be especially targeted toward the upper-middle class.  This creates the attitude that I mentioned above; “why should I help you change if I’m not experiencing any hardship?”  Another cause that I see is the expansion of the number of special interests in today’s society.  There are so many different causes that there are not enough people to support them to make it effective.  So many of these interests are so specialized that they can only pertain to a small group of people.  Besides only being able to gather a small following to begin with, theses special interest groups turn many people away from joining causes in general, just because of their ineffectiveness.  As you can probably imagine, this creates a cycle of less and less people joining interest groups, leading to less effective protests.

To anyone who has read just read this, feel free to post about what reasons you think there are for the decreased effectiveness of mass protests, particularly in the past 40 years or so.