22.12.12

THE QUEST FOR TESTABLE HYPOTHESES.

There's been a countercultural strand in play for at least the past fifty years in which the conventional is oppressive, and to call something bourgeois is to condemn it.  Thus was monogamy smashed, the nuclear family nuked, and if-it-feels-good-do-it enshrined as a moral principle.  Higher education has been complicit in establishing the counterculture, with transgressiveness celebrated as a general principle, and subverting the dominant paradigm becoming the paradigm.

That strand is not without its critics, most recently a note by Carol Iannone.
Then too, the obscene, sadistic, hyperviolent popular culture surrounding us has to be a factor as well, especially under the reigning dispensation  of moral relativism, non-judgmentalism, and who’s-to-say-what-is-right-and-wrong. American freedoms are suited only to a people that understands morality and exercises self-discipline, but everything in our society invites us to live by our own lights and realize our own desires.
In the academy, though, the fault lies with others. California-Berkeley linguist Geoffrey Nunberg and California-Irvine philosopher Aaron James have been theorizing the asshole.
Among the more intriguing issues taken up by James is the relationship between capitalism and asshole production. Simply put, does capitalism encourage assholes? James quotes Samuel Bowles, a professor emeritus of economics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, who argues that market thinking "may set in motion a spiral of market-induced erosion of other-regarding and ethical values, which in turn prompts greater reliance on markets, which in turn further erodes values, and so on."

A society caught in that spiral, James argues, is a society in distress. The institutions that sustain capitalism—public education, religion, family, law—begin to fray, resulting in a profusion of assholes. Such a society is in the grip of what James calls "asshole capitalism." "Society becomes awash with people who are defensively unwilling to accept the burdens of cooperative life, out of a righteous sense that they deserve ever more."
That's an unusual twist on capitalism sowing the seeds of its own destruction.  Might the efforts of business to co-opt countercultural themes into product design and marketing have started the spiral?

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