Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, January 20, 2017

System and Lifeworld

That's the subtitle of the second volume of The Theory of Communicative Action, by Jurgen Habermas. It's very heavy going so I don't necessarily recommend that you try to read it. But it seemed like a good title for this post.

Our modern, complex society is nothing like the kind of societies in which humans evolved. People lived in bands in which everybody knew everybody else, in fact they had varying degrees of kinship, and they communicated face-to-face. Many people are still part of communities like that, to some degree, although for most of us they are more diffuse. We're mobile, we don't see most of our kin regularly. Most of our daily interactions are in the form of narrow role relationships -- worker and boss, customer and server, teacher and student, colleague. And of course there is a vast system of mass communication that is our only window into a world far wider than the village or band, that affects us in ways that are often mysterious, in the face of which we feel largely helpless.

People's brains aren't really built for this. It's not hard to understand why people who are frustrated about the conditions of their lives would have mistaken ideas about what is causing their problems and what to do about it. It's perhaps a bit less obvious, but I hope it is now that I point it out, that messages may come through the system that people perceive as slights, or offend their sense of propriety. But in the old days any such message would come from a person you could have a conversation with. You could tell them how you felt, hopefully work out an understanding, or choose to avoid that person in the future. But people can't talk back to their televisions.

NPR has devoted about half of its news content of late to interviews with Donald Trump supporters. I can't even listen any more, I turn off the radio during my commute whenever they do this. It's just too disturbing to realize that we wound up with a malignant narcissist, authoritarian blithering idiot as president because these people are so deeply incapable of critical thinking. But as Chauncey DeVega explains, perhaps with a subtext less sympathetic than I would like, the shit will hit the lifeworld.

No, they won't get well-paying jobs bolting cars together or mining coal. If the Mexicans all get shipped back to Michoacan, their food will get more expensive. In fact, more of it will be imported and a lot of the local farms will go out of business. If we throw up high tariffs, everything in WalMart will cost more and our export industries will decline. If they repeal the affordable care act, a lot of them will lose their health care and it will get more expensive for the rest of them. And those are just the promises Trump made that they thought they liked. He's going to trash their public schools, make them breathe toxic fumes, cut their social security benefits, and oh yeah, their taxes will go up even as their wages go down.

The dirty secret is that federal taxpayer funds flow from states with liberal electorates to Republican states. As DeVega writes:

As philosopher Henry Girioux has repeatedly warned, the “dead zone of capitalism” will only be expanded by Donald Trump and the Republican Party’s obsessive advancement of predatory capitalism and austerity. “Red State” America is already economically unproductive and parasitic, largely dependent on the taxes and economic activity generated in “Blue State” America. As such, Trump’s policies will disproportionately punish his greatest supporters.

So what will happen when they look around in a couple of years and find themselves worse off? We'll find out.


Anonymous said...

I still remember when NPR took a shit, in terms of any responsibility or objectivity whatsoever. It was 1991. We started bombing Iraq under the first criminal Bush on January 15 (of course, Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday--how appropriate! Discriminate against and kill brown-skinned people at home AND abroad). NPR accepted the Pentagon's rules--you'll report what we let you report, based on what we agree to show you. The lessons of Vietnam were learned--don't give the press access to the truth of what's going on. And NPR agreed.

Hence, National Pentagon Radio. They are smug, not funny, cowed and ignorant. They are in the "let's make people feel good and appease conservatives" crowd. So as Rome starts to burn, they are joking like the bunch of chuckleheads they are.

And Scott Simon, while idiotic, sounds like Dr. Evil. I can't stand to hear him.

Cervantes said...

Well, they're about to lose their federal funding. All those decades of sucking up aren't going to save them now.

Anonymous said...

I've been reading the revised "Don't Think of an Elephant!" by George Lakoff, and I think he's done a lot to resolve the mystery why people vote against their own interests.
Our brain constructs a scene from the electromagnetic waves in a certain frequency band that enters our eyes using circuits etched into our neurons that cause that image to form. In a similar way our brain constructs the social & moral world we think we inhabit by using templates etched into our brains that tell us how the world "should" look like. Lakoff calls those 'frames', and they trump contradictory facts most of the time.
Unfortunately, the Right has knowingly been surreptitiously slipping frames into many peoples heads that only allows them to see things in the way that want them to see them.
We are less rational beings than we think we are, and we can only see those facts that our frames allow us to see.
We need to create frames that allow those in the middle to see that the values we take for granted apply to them also.