Sunday, March 3, 2013

Living Together, Part 2

Living Together provided an overview of the inefficiencies of individualized housing ("space") and some of the benefits of communal space. Here, we'll begin to look with more specificity at some of the ways that elites structure economies to:

1) Provide individualized space for proles, while appearing to support communal space for proles;

2) Provide communal space to elites, while appearing to support individualized space for elites; and,

3) Destroy attempts at widespread communal space.

Beginning with (1) above: Provide individualized space for proles, while appearing to support communal space for proles

The Enclosure of the Commons. Part 1 touched on the use of land development and zoning regulations to require individualized space for non-elites. Historically, people lived in large groups of family and friends, continually supported in their sustenance, emotions, education, security, et cetera, by a group of those they relied upon, and who relied on them. After the enclosure movement, the idea of a village's or province's "commons" as a shared space was destroyed: elites used the "free rider" problem to scare people into accepting the notion that every single inch of the Earth needed to be directly under the jurisdiction of a single authority.

(Historical aside: the phrase "the enclosure movement" typically refers to the removal of the idea of communal property, such as a village green where everyone's livestock may graze, everyone's teenagers may flirt, and everyone's children may play. In Britain and America, this is most commonly associated with English landholders fencing in the commons, but it happened in various forms across most of the world, as elites expressed the same antilife idea differently through different cultural media.)

Renting Social Space. Subsequent to enclosure, the groundwork had been laid for the complete propertization of the world. With no more communal space left, elites were able to use their ownership over formerly-communal spaces to charge fees for basic human interactions. For example, if the village green is gone, and Sally wants to flirt with Jamie, she can no longer linger on the green. Instead, she has to spend money to buy a drink at the pub, so that she'll be entitled to sit in a communal space where she might catch Jamie's attention. The trade in alcohol consumption, different forms of loud group music, and community college night classes all feed off the ability of elites to sell formerly-communal spaces back at a profit to people wishing to mingle. People go out to supper, to bars, to malls, to clubs, etc., primarily in hopes of meeting and interacting with other people. Because the communal space is gone, it now costs money--paid to distant elite owners--to mingle with other people. In a very real sense, all your base are belong to them.

Obviously, that sucks. If you have to buy drinks, listen to loud music, or pretend to be interested in microwave cookery to make new social connections, then it gets expensive. It takes time. Because you're now "going somewhere," the whole dynamic of the encounter has changed. Consider (A) the industries that exist only to feed on the propertization of the commons, (B) the disempowerment of the localized industries caused as a result, and (C) the powerfully negative social conditions resulting therefrom.

Alcohol/food: big alcohol and meal producers who can provide standardized, preserved, cheaply produced, easy-to-ship fare worldwide, to create a reliable "meeting place" food and beverage environment for facilities to sell. Smaller producers are crushed. As people are forced to buy entrees or drink drinks in order to justify their presence at a private establishment filled with potential friends and mates, waves of eating and drinking problems sweep the populace.

Music/entertainment: big recorded music and visual entertainment producers do the same, providing standardized, preserved, cheaply produced, easy to understand fare worldwide, creating a stock "being young" (or "still young" or "remembering the past") culture to be disseminated through clubs, restaurants, bookstores, movies, etc. Smaller producers are crushed. As people are forced to partake of mass culture in order to speak the language of which team is doing well this month, or why Becky slept with Jason's second cousin, or why Stevie lost his job this time, they get wrapped up in a swarm of interchangeable dance beats, adolescent power fantasies, witty takes on modern life, and romantic predestination dramas. European trance dancers dance so hard they have seizures and die, so some governments begin requiring "chillout" rooms at raves.

Makeup/clothing: because "going out" has become a special event where distance is traveled and money is spent, rather than an everyday joy of interacting with the community, people are encouraged to look a certain way. Big clothing/makeup producers--who are, essentially, the same elites that own the other ventures discussed here--create a standardized, preserved, cheaply produced "look," changing by the season, that people should portray when they "go out." Just as with new drink styles, music, and entertainment, elites provision cultural masters who mock those that fail to expend resources becoming aware of, and following, fabricated trends. Innovative personal designers are pitied, ignored, or bought out. Generations of girls develop eating disorders and spend billions on makeup, boys get into fights and act tough, and everyone wastes money on clothes and image.

Education: where do you meet your mate and/or spouse? Well over 90% of the time, at school, work, or church (or city-sponsored "community event"). School and work are the elephants, with obvious pieces of authority and depersonalization swirling thereabout.

This could go on for books, so we'll jump out for now. The essential pattern, though, best exemplified by the modern association of paid, industrially-produced alcohol consumption leading to cultural standardization and drinking problems, plays out in form across all the other realms.

Compartmentalizing Living Space.

Part 3 will go into formal, gun-backed state limitations on communal space, but the informal controls are, to many, more powerful.

Messy, horny immigrants: the image of the dirty family of dark immigrants with "too many kids" is fostered by the elite American scheme of individualizing people: breaking up immigrant communities, and integrating them into the melting pot, was a publicly expressed policy for much of American history, and in some senses, remained that way into the 21st century. The destruction of immigrant communities was a crucible for the American model of empire, used by post-Declaration elites to transform the way colonial powers would organize themselves internally. As immigrant communities would come to the U.S., they would be encouraged to give up old languages and traditions, separate from one another, and disperse into a faceless mass of soldiers and factory workers, doing individual work and living in their own homes. Those who did not were mocked for the squalor and backwardness of their conditions.

White trash (alternate title: In Which Air Quotes Are Used Extensively): the "American dream" of the yeoman farmer, or "your own flat/house," hit "whites" from the start, but as the messy, horny immigrant (or ex-slave) image became associated with skin pigmentation, a separate category, "white trash," was invented for White American families or communities that tried to do things communally. Hillbillies that refused to sell their land, force their children out into factory labor and college debt at 18, and drive their elders into cruel nursing homes, were vilified in newspapers, books, movies and television for cramming too many people under one roof.

The reduced financial resources and hands-on construction of poor "white" and "non-white" communities, along with a few well-chosen elite city-fires and sensationalized building collapses, allowed dirty immigrants and white trash to be blamed for the unsafe conditions that justified expensive, intrusive, discriminatory housing and fire codes, shutting down immigrant and white trash businesses and strengthening the grip of elites "in compliance." Those formal regulations will see more attention in Part 3, but informally, they had a more profound effect, driving into generations of minds, both middle class and lower class, the idea that communal living was not only messy and laughable, but dangerous to society as a whole. Floods of whites fled the immigrant, white-trash havens of poor urbania, gentrifying the new suburban countryside, only to begin returning to revitalized, high-rent downtowns in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

When we move forward, we'll flesh out more of those three important headings from above, namely, how do elites simultaneously:

1) Provide individualized space for proles, while appearing to support communal space for proles--a lot of the "provide" was done here; the "appear to support" will need more later.

2) Provide communal space to elites, while appearing to support individualized space for elites--not yet touched on.

3) Destroy attempts at widespread communal space--the old "coincidental city-fire caused by stupid immigrants" was hinted at; the new "crazy cult" and similar models will come out later.


  1. Very insightful. The way they accomplish this in NJ is to allow dramatic population increases while not increasing public facilities, typically by rezoning industrial and agricultural to multi-family residential. New recreational amenities, if any, are commercial facilities included with the development, though there may be token green space.

    The other factor is the law of unintended consequences. If a town takes money from the state's Green Acres program then it is obligated to make the state-funded facility available to everyone. This is a nod to the historical parochial attitude local officials took toward their own parks, ball fields, etc. The effect is that out-of-towners gravitate to nicer facilities and the locals feel uncomfortable using them.

    This state sucks.

  2. High Arka, every one of your essays is more insightful than the one that preceded it. Here, you've outdone yourself.

    One of the reasons I've had to dissociate myself from the so-called "libertarian" movement is that I realized, as you point out, that their exaltation of private property ownership actually puts more and more wealth and power in fewer and fewer hands, and exploits non- or small owners by charging the fees you describe for the right to hang out in a "public" space like a bar.

    It's also what enables corporate interests to essentially gain control of the food supply, and why they add things like high-fructose corn syrup to the pap they sell. It's bad enough that they've taken the "public" out of "public space", but their control of the food supply is really, I think, what will ultimately enslave most of the population.

  3. RE: "elites used the "free rider" problem to scare people into accepting the notion that every single inch of the Earth needed to be directly under the jurisdiction of a single authority."

    Harding's "Tragedy of the commons" may be the most blatant piece of propaganda to ever grace the pages of "Science". He never bothered to explain how come humans were able to manage common pool resources for centuries, while also neglecting the fact that corporate private ownership is precisely what creates "the tragedy" on a global scale, since that's exactly what corporations do - externalize the negative effects of exploiting private property, now on a global scale. "Hey, why DAFUQ should I care that my computers are designed to be toxic pieces of junk within 3 years? Just dump the damned things in some river in Africa. Dem's monkeys won't know what's up anyway!"

  4. I suspect you're already going to hit any points I might make in your upcoming posts on this topic, but in case you aren't, some things that come to mind as relevant:

    - The Amish have been managing to do precisely what you're talking about here, and still do, but ONLY by restricting themselves from certain levels of participation with the rest of society. But the Amish still function as a communal society, socialize within their community, etc. When the kids get married, they might take over the farm, and build a "grandfather" room for old ma & pa to move into, where they continue to be a part of life,-rather than being shuttled off to a retirement community or nursing home to be useless.

    - Teenagers are often hit the hardest by this "pay to socialize" phenomenon, as they are often cash-poor but very socially desirous. This is why punk existed--because anyone with no money hanging around public areas was a young punk up to no good. Especially horrific if they had a skateboard--those were the real menace.

    - Isn't it funny now that no one thinks twice about having to rent out a place to have a fricking wedding?

    - I hope you'll go into the way social attitudes about sex really further this individuation. This western notion of two-person marriage (or even better, serial monogamy!) really helps--even hitting the gay community with it helps the powers that be, because if gay people are forming monogamous households, they're not living in big gay communities where they might pool resources. Also, it is important that we make sure everyone knows that sex is done in UTTER PRIVACY, and UTTER PRIVACY has a pricetag. Helps if we institute a bunch of social rituals that go along with it, too; hence, you're a complete tart if you go to bed with someone who hasn't taken you out to paid social venues a minimum of three times, and bought you socially approved gifts while wearing decently expensive attire. It would just be wrong if, you know, whole tribes of people were bound by different relationships, with varying degrees of sexuality, and then took mutual responsibility for children, cooking the meals, bringing home resources, etc...

  5. The poor will inherit the world. Once the west implodes in some sort of environmental/technological/military disaster, the south americans, the africans, or the south asians will figure it out, hopefully with the assistance of some remnants of modern science and technology

  6. You may find Factor E Farm of some interest: