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July 12, 2008

Post Industry?

Let me take a minute to deconstruct deconstruction. I've heard the term post-industrial thrown around. This is where our problem lies in our postmodern society. There is no such thing as post industry because to say a society is "postindustrial" is to say that a society no longer relies on manufacturing, building, and other industrial pursuits. Engineers are still among the most employable and stable occupations. Public sector industrial work never goes out of style (particularly in PA with the way the weather works the infrastructure. Service industry requires a stable base of industrial development. If I want to open a restaurant, I have to have people come and build a place to host it. Then I need tables, chairs, ovens, kitchen tools, and of course, uniforms, tableware. And after that is done, I will need food products, wines, coffees, etc. Service directly depends on industry. It's just like the transition from agrarian life to mass industry. Believe it or not, there are still farmers in this world. Trees, plants and animals that aren't cats, dogs or ferrets exist. In order to make those crystal glasses, you need a carbon source. Raw materials are still being harvested. What is oil? Post industrial would suggest that we no longer rely on raw materials which would be a complete lie being as our recycling system is, I would argue, inadequate.

What marks the post-industrial age is not the reality, but the focus of society's gaze on reality. Cyber studies, media studies, media ecology, sensation and perception being psychology's next fad. We've merely directed the attention of the culture at large to a growing facet of our society. Industry has not shrunken, but with global capital is indeed, growing. So what seems like a diminishing demand of manufacturing jobs in America is actually a shift in the sectors where the jobs are placed (the outsourcing crisis ring a bell?). So, we should make clear that service depends on industry (every industry needs tools), that demand for industrial jobs has not diminished and that economic growth really does start with industry. What happens is a series of shifts in demand. Specialists are always hired because of the principles of competition that capitalism employs. We want the best candlestick maker, right? But let's say next year, there is an incident with fire that makes buying candles unfavorable and people see a new electric candle that the competitor is selling. Candlestick makers are now out of business and all the time invested in perfecting that trade is thrown out. What if a blight hits the beehives in that area and wax can no longer be collected for that plant? Those are all factors that affect people employed at that plant. Deregulation cannot address those crises and in fact, makes it easier for companies to shift around. The argument that taxes has so much to do with the state of the economy is such a fallacious argument. Yet many people buy this notion and I nearly vomit when I see how many NeoReaganists are out there. The economy is not driven by profits. It is driven by labor, and in particular, industrial labor. The goal of the economy is profit, but profit cannot be achieved without something to generate it.

So take the whole "greed is good" idea for example and let's be completely agnostic to moral, political, and philosophical convictions and ideology. If we loosen the grip on the stock market, banks, and corporate organizations, this creates a surge of money in the upper sectors of money holders and allows for these groups to invest in industry in order to generate more wealth for themselves. The trickle-down effect would be the kind and benevolent rich people bending down to the working class Americans and handing... or more accurately, that letting powerful capitalists off the leash for a while would resurrect industry and open a mass industrial job market to generate more wealth for the rich and rekindle the vague promise of the "American dream." It, even in my very cynical interpretation, sounds very glittering. Here's the catch: you only get half of the story: the macroeconomic perspective. What you get is glittering generalizations to which our culture has, in recent history, been built on. It sounds good. But more jobs does not mean better situation for working class families, does not mean more wealth for the ambiguous benefits of economic growth across the board.

This relies on the assumption that capital drives economic improvement. But, as any economist would know, bigger is not necessarily better. May we say "broken window fallacy?" The problem with these thoughts are they don't change anything really. Raising the standard of living across the board does not eliminate poverty. Poverty is a social condition marked by a disparity between one class of people and another. Being poor is not lacking the things necessary to live, but being of a social status so low one could not be lower. The trouble is the poverty line is very ambiguous and extremely subjective. Where do you draw the line of poverty? People were sent to labor camps in 18th century Europe for stealing food and stealing is socializing in the base classes. What stopped the people in the 18th century from going into the woods and killing animals with their bare hands and eating them? It was more possible then than now. Humans are social creatures and the presence of people is enough to keep people in a unfair situation. So food was not a need, but a desire in 18th century Europe. And a loaf of bread is no different than stealing a television set. Where did this come from? Greed. And from the lower classes to the upper, we are socialized to believe this wad of horse shit. And the greed trickles down. Poverty is the social frustration of desire. Poor people want to be able to have access to the things of rich people because the rich have it easy. And being part of society and all it's assumptions of wants and needs runs deep into the soul of every human being. We want to flaunt our talents and uniqueness and we want to feel special. Willy Loman was certainly special once. But when folks came back from the war and the GI bill put more college grads out there, a salesman became just a salesman. Bernards started replacing Willies and by Christ, look at what something as simple as an image does. Post industry is what happened to Willy Loman. How often do you see a show like Rosanne on TV? Working class people have been eliminated from our social awareness. They exist. It's funny how media, pop culture hype and marketing all play a role in shifting what we believe is reality. Postindustry, cyberculture, social networking are all glittery terms like greed is good, that call us to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. It's sad. And we all want to be the man, too. Which is more sad.

I have to repeat the words of my Mexican buddy who comes to America and is taken aback by how little we really stop and look at classism. "How much is enough? Is there ever a time when these people [wealthy Americans] say 'I'm satisfied'?" Luxury is disappointing. Just ask kids in the 1950s. Home life may be more tranquil in the suburbs, but building so-called solutions doesn't really solve the fundamental problem that has driven contemporary culture: the problem of society. We should learn from our Latino and Native brothers: how we mingle with others is a part of achieving happiness. And as business continues to grow and deregulation allows business to shift work around to suit the creation of profit and people are constantly competing and searching aimlessly for that "American Dream," we will still feel anxiety and unfulfillment. Free markets can't bring that fulfillment. We learned that in the 1950s as Jack Kerouac watched people wander around at night in their cars. Until we can start building small, stable, localized economies that only function to fill needs and not create them, until we can build actual communities where people help each other through real problems that are now reserved for disinterested professionals, until we can all view each other as a friend, we will all be lost travelers on these long and winding roads, whether in a car or on the roadside hitching for a ride. Please buy local produce, chat a while with people in your neighborhood deli, volunteer at a community arts festival or nursing home, take a look at all the hidden gems your community has to offer. You cannot change the world, or stop large corporations, or completely restructure the economy. But with 4 dollar gas, it might be wise to start the movement. Think locally, act locally. You might be surprised at just how many of the answers are hiding under your nose.

Posted by EvanReynolds at July 12, 2008 11:40 PM

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Comments

A very thoughtful, meaty post, Evan. I have two immediate thoughts... First, "postindustrial" doesn't mean *nobody* relies on manufacturing, but rather that manufacturing is no longer the key economic factor that defines all the others. So the fact that industry is still important to the economy doesn't undermine the usefulness of the term "postindustrial." The other thought responds to "Willy Loman was certainly special once." In the time the play is set, he relives flashbacks from days when he was making more money, but even in the fantasy world to which Willy escapes for comfort, he's bringing home less then he expected and the family is having trouble with its bills. In terms of being a unique human being with noble dreams, he's as special as he always ways, and there are a few lines that suggest the fact he's almost paid his house debt is a notable accomplishment -- meaning that, within the moral framework of the economic society depicted by the play, he's closer to financial/class respectability in the present than he was in the past. (But of course Miller asks us to step outside that economic world view.)

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at July 13, 2008 9:33 AM

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