Monday, August 25, 2014

Our Essential Illness


Murray Dobbins' analysis is never superficial. He looks for root causes. In his latest column, he notes that two television shows -- House of Cards and Breaking Bad -- were tremendously popular. He suspects that,  just as science fiction movies of the 1950's were about Cold War paranoia, these two shows were really about the psychopathy of 21st century capitalism. He quotes Canadian author Patricia Pearson:

The celebration of remorselessness is everywhere. Friends on Facebook have lately been reporting their scores on widely circulating psychopathy quizzes that ask users to agree or disagree with statements such as, 'I never feel remorse, shame or guilt about something I've said or done.'  'I'm 19-per-cent psychopath!' they announce. Or: 'I scored five out of 10!' As if the chilling absence of human empathy I witnessed as a crime reporter in covering trials like that of serial killer Paul Bernardo had become a fun little personality quirk.

Captialism has now become hyper-competitive. And the consequences are truly disturbing:

The stronger the imperative to compete, the weaker become family, community and friendship connections because in rampant consumer capitalism -- promoted and reinforced by television culture -- such connections are seen as irrelevant. Or worse, they are seen as weak and inefficient means, if not actual barriers, to the end of achieving more stuff. We are competing in a zero-sum game whose rules are written by those with psychopathic tendencies.

It's that psychopathology which is a the root of our democratic crisis:

It is not first-past-the-post voting systems, or the cancellation of government funding for parties, or even the role of TV advertising. It is at its core our gradual acquiescence "to things that are contrary to our individual and communal interests." This acquiescence, says [Fred] Guerin, is the "consequence of very gradual political and corporate indoctrination that consolidates power not only by inducing fear and uncertainty, but also by rewarding unbridled greed, opportunism and self-interest."

If we want to reclaim our democracy, Dobbin writes, we need to discover an old human trait -- kindness:

British writer Barbara Taylor has suggested in her essay "On Kindness" (co-authored by Adam Phillips) that the missing ingredient is just that: kindness. The authors point out that for almost all of human history, people considered themselves naturally kind. Christian philosophy called on people to "love thy neighbour as thyself." But by the 17th century, kindness was under attack by competitive individualism. Today, says Taylor, "An image of self has been created that is utterly lacking in natural generosity." This is in spite of numerous studies that show giving provides far more pleasure than taking. People involved in these studies are astonished by the results -- and simply don't trust them.

21st century capitalism sees kindness as a weakness. Certainly our prime minister regards it as such. But our prime minister -- unlike Dobbin -- doesn't believe in "committing sociology."  He believes in our essential illness.


Unknown said...

They are no longer human Owen, yes in physique and stature maybe but when it comes to heart soul and empathy they have none.

They are all 'in it for the money' oh yes for you religious types the bible predicted this that people would do anything for nothing. After all money is just a piece of paper.

Owen Gray said...

It's ironic, isn't it Mogs, that Harper's base believe they are very religious?

Lorne said...

Excellent post, Owen. It captures the essence of the 'wisdom' that we are all supposed to accept in the promotion of the corporatist state.

Owen Gray said...

I'm always impressed with Dobbin's work, Lorne. He always pulls back the curtain on our self-proclaimed "Wizard."

Marie Snyder said...

I've spoken with classes about the notion of survival of the fittest as it applies today. It once meant that the strong and healthy, those that can catch, find or grow food and build a strong home, are most likely to survive to reproduce. But perhaps what it means today, now that we no longer need the skills to get our own food or make our own homes, is that those good at manipulation will survive. The CEOs as psychopaths gives some credence to this. People who rise to the top aren't typically the kindest, but the least affected by those they crush on the way up. Other studies find that the popular kids in school aren't the nice kids, but the mean kids that others want to align with for their own survival. Can we realign our values to change this? I'm not so sure in a society in which self-improvement once referred to developing character but now largely means improving our appearance.

Owen Gray said...

Our basic narcissism -- and its acceptance by society at large -- does not bode well for change, Marie.

A nation of people who are fascinated by the selfies they post on Facebook is not a nation set to reclaim kindness.

Anonymous said...

On one of Harper's x-mas interviews. He said he was a devout Christian and prayed for guidance every day. My son spewed his coffee halfway across the room. He said? Harper must have meant he *preyed* everyday.

I too appreciate Murray Dobbin. He wondered if, Harper was the American's useful idiot?

Harper is insane and rabid for, power, glory, greed and what benefits him. Harper creeps me out. To me Harper needs a full mental evaluation. I have evaluated Harper long ago and so far I haven't been wrong.

I shouldn't say it but, Harper reminds me of Hitler. Harper wants Canada as his, Thousand Year Fourth Reich. If Harper grabbed control of the Supreme Courts, that's exactly what would happen.

Harper is frantic to be a big shot, on the global scene. My oh my, wouldn't he ever be important then?

Owen Gray said...

He does have his issues, doesn't he, Anon?

Askingtherightquestions said...

A great post Owen and I agree, Mr. Dobbin is always worth a read. I too have previously posted on the NASTY behaviour of the CPC, something that seemed obvious but was really not a MSM thing until I think a few of them got "bitten" or got an up close glance at the uncivil, controlling and vengeful inner workings!! Suffice it to say that the win at all costs, go as close to the legal line as possible behaviour of the CPC is NOT Christian, and I think it reflects something new in Canadian politics (certainly cannot think of any group going back to Pearson/Dief -even Mulroney seemed to have a line not to be crossed). It is equally wrong to label him as evil incarnate because he has some very human things he needs to answer for! I honestly believe that there is a deep, growing dissatisfaction with Harper's lack of humanity and this ultracompetitive "Corporate" behaviour in Canada, mostly because it is so anti-social and flawed. I wonder what Obama will do if Burger King purchases Timmies so that it can move its corporate head offices to Brampton (to pay less US taxes)? That problem is at a tipping point in the USA.

Owen Gray said...

Mr. Harper et al are a truly remorseless bunch, Asking.