This is the blog for Art for Humans and Paul McLean for 2012.
Audio by Zerp3zej
Animation + video by Paul McLean
For Novad Zine [Interstitial]
By Paul McLean
How did Barack Obama win re-election? The philosopher Jean-Claude Milner recently proposed the notion of the “stabilising class”: not the old ruling class, but all who are committed to the stability and continuity of the existing social, economic and political order – the class of those who, even when they call for a change, do so to ensure that nothing really will change. The key to electoral success in today’s developed states is winning over this class. - Slavoj Žižek, “Why Obama is more than Bush with a human face”
Liberals, by voting for Barack Obama, betrayed the core values they use to define themselves—the rule of law, the safeguarding of civil liberties, the protection of unions, the preservation of social welfare programs, environmental accords, financial regulation, a defiance of unjust war and torture, and the abolition of drone wars. – Chris Hedges, “The Presidential Election Exposed, Again, the Death of the Liberal Class”
It seemed that out of the battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which Titanic wars had groined.
Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands as if to bless.
- Wilfred Owens, “Strange Meeting”
Tom, you know you surprise me. If anything in this life is certain - if history has taught us anything - it’s that you can kill anyone. – Michael Corleone, The Godfather Part II
War - Nations do have to go to war sometimes, but that Iraq thing was pretty bad, to put it mildly. Somebody should have been, I dunno – FIRED for bad performance. Aren’t you the party of good corporate managers or something? This topic could get 10,000 words on its own. Let’s just leave it at: You guys suck at running wars. - Eric Garland, “Letter to a future Republican strategist regarding white people”
In the 2012 election, we have a winner. Management won.
Slavoj Žižek is almost right to cite Milner in his analysis. He would have been more correct to point to Peter Drucker, whom George W. Bush awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002. Drucker wrote the book on Management, literally. The culture of management won the culture war this time. No one seems to have noticed management was a combatant. So, no one seems able to figure out the margin of victory, or explain the results, and consequences.
Chris Hedges is right, too, about what the election was not about, but should have been. Hedges, too, is almost right to slam the liberal class for its passivity with respect to Obama’s “betrayal” of liberal “core values” in his first term. He would have been more correct to consider the values (or lack thereof) of the management class, because that is the key to electoral victory in the United States currently, not the performance of the “Other” voter classes that the professional political punditry claim pushed Obama’s campaign over the electoral finish line ahead of Romney.
Really, the non-drama of 2012 is how boring, banal and mediocre political realities are in the United States. From a management perspective, the Obama victory is the safer bet.
My theory is that the outcome of the election is in fact a story about behavior and demography, but not the story we’re being told via corporate monopoly media, or by the “alternative” media. Voters who swung the election to Obama chose him, because they realized the Republican candidate was a corporate raider whose fortune derived from purging middle-management and labor, outsourcing jobs or destroying them, wiping out pensions, “streamlining” benefits and the social safety net, increasing cost burdens on all but management and owner classes, and prioritizing the owner’s or corporation’s or organization’s bottom line over all else.
Romney is dedicated to making everything from the Olympics to America run more like a business. The problem the voters discovered by reading between the lines or watching Obama’s attack ads is that Romney’s business was Bain Capital.
Plus, Romney is a 1%-loving, 47%-hating superrich asshole.
Maybe this would be fine, if it weren’t for reality, or, rather, the dimensional realities America and the world are facing at the moment. Romney demonstrated a profound failure in his comprehension of international affairs, during his candidacy. The world is, from a management perspective, a very risky and complex place.
Europe is volatile. The Mideast is at war, and the United States is directly and/or indirectly involved in the conflict(s) there. Global warming is, well, outpacing the dire predictions of science. Aside from these considerable considerations, the narratives that were created to manage mass perception about them are fraying in unexpected ways. Call it the Ouroboros Syndrome.
How else to explain, for example, the irony of the surveillance state taking out Generals Petraeus and possibly Allen, two of the globe’s most powerful military potentates? It’s doubtful that a straight answer explaining this scandal will emerge. Too much, potentially, is riding on the indelicate, sensational situation. For one thing, the infrastructure for warrantless electronic privacy infiltration by government agents seems to be accidentally spotlighted. Protocols established to crush international terrorist networks were evidently employed by the FBI to bring down the head of the CIA, one of America’s most decorated and celebrated soldiers (Petraeus), and the country’s top officer, who was in line to be appointed leader of NATO’s forces (Allen). FUBAR.
The scenario appears to be unfolding without script or direction. Keeping a lid on the story is impossible. Such improvisational phenomena worry managers, generally. At some point, management stops and damage control starts. Mistakes tend to be more dramatic when the actors are in damage control mode. Think Watergate.
More and more, the managed pots are boiling over. The mass demonstrations in Europe and elsewhere continue to grow in size and effect, whether the New York Times – think of them as the media manager - ignores them or not. In Greece, Spain, Italy, France, etc., the proverbial pot’s lid is off, the contents emptied and the cooks are banging the pots in the streets.
Hurricane Sandy was not containable as a story. New York City Mayor Bloomberg never really got a memetic handle on it. He runs the world’s biggest news organization, but even so, he couldn’t stop the viral video of Sandy victims railing against the Mayor for doing what he always does – foregrounding the interests of Manhattan’s elites over the rest of the demos.
A related aside: The management epicenter of the so-called free market, Goldman Sachs, never lost power, during the storm. It’s difficult to estimate the hate index for Goldman Sachs. This episode didn’t lower it.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie set aside partisanship and acknowledged the President’s helpful role in managing relief efforts, at a critical stage of the election campaign. Rupert Murdoch of News Corp and other powerful figures on the right attacked Christie for doing so. Did this factor in the election outcome? Who knows, but the story was off-message, at least from a Republican point of view.
The daily revelations of financial and business sector wrongdoing resist any soft peddling spin. Conflagrations like the ones in Syria, Libya and now Gaza evade any gestures at minimizing their significance through media channels. And so on.
One way to interpret the status quo: reality is not manageable, over time. By accepting this proposition we open up an existential can of worms. If the world is unmanageable, power must be reframed. Control is imperiled. Command is revoked.
Hierarchies are a precursor to managerial effectiveness. Management as a social form is a relatively recent invention. Command and control complexes, like the old military model, are the pre-management old school, and they are strong to a point. However, when such complexes reach their limits, they prove brittle and break. Management, as a field, is attempting to embrace “creativity” and fluidity in a kind of reformation movement, to move further away from command and control and into a new age of applicability.
The problem is that “management” and “hierarchies” are abstract. People are real. Management specialists like Drucker are traffickers in double abstractions, or compound abstractions. People are made up of composite realities. Take a look at some of Peter Drucker’s assumptions about management, from his book Management Challenges for the 21st Century:
1. Management is Business Management.
2. There is – or there must be – ONE right organization structure.
3. There is – or there must be – ONE right way to manage people.
Management, to put it succinctly cannot imagine unmanageability, anytime. Management’s function is reducible to business, only. If the world will not conform to reduction, to manageability, as a business enterprise, it must be made to. Ultimately, whatever form the impossibly reduced world assumes, there can only be, there must only be ONE right organization structure for it, and ONE right way to manage the people who belong to it.
Not only is this a recipe for madness, it is a recipe for evil. War is one such evil. Enforced poverty and time-based slavery are two more such evils. Management, in short, is not fit to govern in reality. If people are too weak to resist the current power of management, it seems the world itself is taking on the task.
Government under the rubric of management, is failing, is becoming corrupted, and, at least in democratic states, becoming increasingly unstable, due to the checks and balances systems that comprise democracies. These include peaceful rebellion.
Business is increasingly assuming the role of anti-democratic tyrant. The standards and practices of the business world are disintegrating into amorality and unaccountability. During the election season, corporate CEOs ordered their employees, essentially, to vote against an Obama second term. Billionaires spent billions, in a concerted effort to determine the results. Often reports emerged explaining the interests of these “special interests.” Sometimes reports emerged chronicling the anti-social, anti-democratic behavior of the corporations led or owned by these people. Romney himself suffered this reactive profiling, to the detriment of his campaign. The truth about Bain, and Romney’s role in the company, proved unmanageable.
Business, or management, fail to recognize what’s right in front of them. Reality is insisting that management have a sitdown with the real. It is, to apply the title of the Wilfred Owens poem excerpted above, turning out to be a strange meeting. We’ve learned that business likes to rig its games, as with LIBOR, and now the gas markets in the UK. Reality – you could call it nature, or time, or truth, even God – is proving to be more powerful than management. Reality is revealing that management, behind the smiley face of creativity (see Wal*Mart) is still a command and control mechanism. Moreover, the point of business is extraction and exploitation. Further, the lines defining the sectors, as outlined by Drucker (business, government and social), are at least blurred, fundamentally abstract, and essentially unreal.
Functioning democracy is realistic. It is incompatible with management. President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address powerfully connected the loss of life on that gory battlefield to the perpetuation of freedom, and “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” Management would love us to care about business and money the same way, but the truth is most people don’t. They value other things over the bottom line. Management is incompatible with this fact, and in general cannot escape itself, to the people’s detriment.
Romney said corporations are people. Actual people from all backgrounds know better. But assume for a moment that Romney was right. Then consider the fictional words of the Godfather character Michael Corleone, a different sort of artificial personhood. Then imagine the execution of Hyman Roth as the execution of Goldman Sachs. Is the linkage so farfetched?
For this scenario to be plausible, all we have to believe in is history. It helps to have an organization technically capable of executing a plan. The flaw in this imaginary scenario is that we, collectively, playing the Michael Corleone character, would be acting solely in our own business interests.
Mike Corleone in the Godfather series was always trying to move the family towards legitimacy. Maybe we can think of legitimacy, at the least, in a loose definition of the law, as realistic.
Hedges addresses the destruction of the artificial person matrix, the “myth of America,” in terms of a future, possibly inevitable, rebellion. His is a grim vision, a brutal diagnosis:
The corporate state, faced with rebellion from within and without, does not know how to define or control this rising power, from the Arab Spring to the street protests in Greece and Spain to the Occupy movement. Rebellion always mystifies the oppressor. It appears irrational. It does not make sense. The establishment asks: What are their demands? Why do they hate us? What do they want? The oppressor can never hear the answer, for the answer is always the same—we seek to destroy your power. The oppressor, blind to the brutality and injustice meted out to sustain dominance and prosperity, escalates the levels of force employed to protect privilege. The crimes of the oppressor are seen among the elite as the administering of justice—law and order, the war on terror, the natural law of globalization, the right granted by privilege and power to shape and govern the world. The oppressor cannot see the West’s false humanism. The oppressor cannot, as James Baldwin wrote, understand that our “history has no moral justification, and the West has no moral authority.” The oppressor, able to speak only in the language of force and increasingly lashing out like a wounded animal, will be consumed in the inferno.
Žižek is more diplomatic, or strategic, process-oriented. He describes a progressive dismantling of the apparatus of the “bourgeois formal democracy” to “reinvent” democracy.
Either way, change is on its way. Or, as an enforcer might put it, you can either go the hard way, or the easier way. You’re still going to go.
The Republican Party didn’t lose the Presidency in 2012, because it is only made up of or focused on the interests of white males. It failed, because the most electorally important white males can’t stand what the Republican Party now stands for.
Eric Garland’s letter/blogpost is the best articulation I’ve seen of this reality. I would encourage the reader to review Garland’s text in its entirety. It’s a gem. Suffice to summarize it as a wake-up call to the GOP. The Knowledge Worker (Drucker’s term for new labor) class is rejecting management.
After documenting his bonafides, which include having an ancestor on the Mayflower, Garland goes on to list the policy areas in which the Republicans fail to satisfy or exceed his expectations as a voter: science; climate; healthcare; war; deficits and debt; and gay marriage. He provides reasons why. They are poignant and at time hilariously delivered. Garland sums up his analysis with these recommendations:
If you want to know exactly where you failed in 2012, and will continue to fail, here it is. Look you assholes, I’m as traditional an American as it gets, and I do not “want free stuff.” I am a taxpayer, and ALWAYS HAVE BEEN. I got my first job – dragging bags of cow manure, horse feed and fertilizer around a farm store – when I was 12. I started my first company when I was 28. I have followed the vast majority of the rules set out for middle class white males (for good and for ill.) And if it weren’t bad enough that your policy positions are a complete clusterfuck for the reasons I lay out in great detail, you manage to follow up the whole exercise with insulting me, my wife, and my friends of every stripe who didn’t vote for your political party – all of whom are hard-working, taxpaying, job creating, law abiding, great AMERICANS of EVERY COLOR AND CREED.
From this white, Mayflower-descended strategic analyst, allow me to offer you the three strategic options you have before you:
1. You drastically moderate your platform to harmonize with the policy positions I present above
2. You disband the party and reorganize it to reflect current realities
3. You kick and scream and stamp your feet and call me and my friends names – and submit to several decades of one party rule
Garland’s screed is directed at the GOP, but the real tipping point will be when Americans like Garland realize their democracy already is a one-party regime, that the Management Party is in charge. When that happens management will be replaced. I hope this happens sooner than later, for all the poet-warrior’s sakes, and for all us real people, too.
- http://www.amazon.com/Management-Challenges-Century-Peter-Drucker/dp/0887309992/ (pg 5)
Moving images by Paul McLean. Source material: video by Cody Sullivan; overhead projector mixing by Michael Barron; music by Wilson Novitzki + Adam Caine; set at Occupational Art School Node 1 at Bat Haus, August 25, 2012
[Video-only; for installation at CO-OP, an Occupy with Art experimental collective project in partnership with bj spoke Gallery in Huntington, Long Island, opening September 8 2012]
Video by Cody Sullivan of live performance at Occupational Art School Node 1 at Bat Haus on Saturday, August 25, 2012. Performing: Wilson Novitzki (synth, etc), Adam Caine (guitar), Michael Barron (overhead projector), Paul McLean (animations, overhead projector, image uploads).
- CODY #1: http://youtu.be/5r-u2GFpBUY
- MIKE #2: http://youtu.be/Cii_HplrsMo
- MIKE #1: http://youtu.be/41lNbyjDXeI
Animation for DisciplineAriel, performance at Bat Haus August 25, 2012.