Monday, August 17, 2009

Same Old, Same Old

I guess there’s not much point in being surprised that Canada’s pickle-up-the-ass conservative paper of record, The Globe & Mail, would use the opportunity of the NDP’s annual convention to take a poke at them and the left. To be fair, the Globe isn’t the worst paper in the country, but then I hope nobody ever gives me that kind of praise (“he wasn’t the BIGGEST idiot in the room”).
In any case, the Globe’s main article following the convention “NDP trumpets new policy – in the same socialist vein”, as well as the big controversy at the convention about changing the NDP’s name to simply the Democratic Party – to ride Obama’s wave – made me think of all things new and shiny.
Now, I’m all for new things when they represent an advance on the old. I’m for clean, running water and indoor plumbing, for instance. I’m for the internet. And, in a weird sort of way, I’m for capitalism rather than the feudalism or slave societies that preceded it.
But “new” is used most of the time as a scam, a sales device to discredit that which is “old” without really having to engage with the substance of whatever is being dismissed. It’s what I learned in my university “Argument Theory” class was one of a species of logical fallacies known as an “ad hominem”. That’s the high-falutin’ way of saying it’s equivalent of “name calling.”
Now there’s a few things at play here. The first is our obsession with the new and the young. I talked about this some time ago viz cosmetic surgery and the Peter Pan myth. But it also applies to social and political categories.
All that is old is tired, all that is new is vibrant. We valorize the absence of labour, experience, age, and we worship youth as a side effect of our fetishization of commodities. To get all Marxist about it, we take objects that have been created by humans and drain them of their social content and worship their flatness by imputing to them powers that they don't have.
Rather than human activity being transparently the means by which society creates itself, it appears that it is through the action of objects that society creates itself – money buys happiness, a car gives you freedom, a house gives you security, Coke adds life. Because our activity as humans is mediated by the action and movement of said commodities - as social beings we don't have direct interaction, we interact through our objects for sale and thus it seems like they are interacting. That’s what is meant by it being a fetish. We are literally the largest cargo cult in human history!
This gives culture a two-dimensional character. We see things not as evolving through time as a result of human innovation and changing need – we see them as existing NOW. We are repulsed by history and by change – we try to keep our faces frozen with botox and our cars shiny and new.
We don’t judge the validity of a set of politics or economic theories according to whether they work or accurately describe the phenomenon of interest. Instead we judge them, again, by their newness. So, we have this quote in the above-mentioned article:
“But Liberal MP Geoff Regan, an observer at the convention, said he didn't see much of a shift toward the centre on the part of the New Democrats.
“As far as the delegates are concerned,” he said, “they seem more keen on sticking to the same old 1970s ideology that we've heard from them for years.”
I presume this nitwit is talking about Keynsianism and welfare state spending to alleviate inequality. Well, he may have noticed that that “old idea” of neo-liberalism, drawing upon ideology as old as capitalism itself about not interfering in the market, has failed spectacularly. And if it weren’t for some of that old idea of state intervention GM and Chrysler would be well and truly tits up (as opposed to surviving by sucking back bucketloads of our money without us having a commensurate, democratic say in how they run the company).
But while Regan might be a dope he has kindly illustrated for us a useful point – that the fetishism of the new, which repackages the old every few years with the latest colour of lipstick, is really way of avoiding talking about issues and avoiding debate. And the reason they want to avoid debate is obvious – because capitalism is in the shitter, people’s lives are being ruined and we desperately need an alternative.
Hopefully the NDP will spend less time worrying about being new by dropping the “New” and more time being new by being old and reminding us once again that the Emperor – capitalism – has no clothes.
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