7/23/2010

Where modern pro-interventionist intellectuals make a bizarre wrong turn

I am reading an interview with the brilliant scholar and current University of Princeton professor, Cornel West. I am familiar with Professor West from appearances he has made on the Bill Maher show and other television programs. I enjoyed his commentary and found him to be a remarkably intelligent person and this interview does nothing to disprove that. In fact what got me so interested and prompted this blog post was some extremely insightful commentary he made regarding modern social conditions that I would like to share with you now:

West: "What's worse is there's less available love in Black America. If I were born today, I'd have a soul sickness. I think that's true for the country as a whole...They (his students) haven't experienced love in any deep sense. They don't know how to love themselves or one another in a way that empowers or nourishes the spirit. They're used to more fleeting interactions, stimulation, titillation rather than deep nourishment."

Interviewer: So as the song goes, where is the love?

West: "Hey, man, it went to the market. It was devoured by corporate strategies and tactics that caught fire in the Reagan administration and continue to burn in the age of Obama....The problem is, we've lived in a kind of ice age these past 30 years or so, and that's hard to rise out of. The age of Reagan began in 1981. The idolizing of the market, the unleashing of the market, the promotion of an unregulated market stared even earlier, with Carter in 1977...So you end up with 30 years of blanketing every nook and cranny of the culture with free-market fundamentalism."

I see this time and time again from brilliant people. Just a total departure from logic, reason, and factual information when they begin to espouse their views on economics and the market. I find it particularly striking in the above interview because I think his comments on the nature of today's youth are extremely poignant and insightful, yet he then literally comes to the conclusion that the cause of this is from corporations. Or profits. Or preaching free-markets etc. I mean I don't even know how to reconcile these two statements. It's like while transitioning to his explanation on why the current state of affairs is so depressing his brain got temporarily disabled and he just blurted out one of the more bizarre and ridiculous conclusions possible. "Because the corporations made us worship greed." It's hard to take that seriously. Yet he is a serious man, with a tremendous amount of intelligence and sadly for the working class and poor people he and those like him are trying to help, he is far from alone.

I don't really want to go into detail about how his facts are wrong and that we never had a free market, and that the supposedly wild and crazy deregulation that took place under Reagan that he cites as the source of these "30 years of free market fundamentalism" saw government GROW IN SIZE under his administration. You would think that government was reduced to unprecedented sizes not seen since the 1800s by the way they make it sound. But no, this wild and untamed free market was a period in which government actually grew in size. But again I really don't want to waste time explaining how far removed from reality the average perception of history and government's role in history is, I just found it extremely paradoxical that one could make such a penetrating insight on human condition and then conclude the reason for such a complex and far reaching social paradigm shift was because corporations made us all greedy.

As I think a bit more deeply about it, it actually makes a degree of sense. It is not quite as abstractly idiotic of a statement that I first thought it was. It is important to remember that when one believes in intervention and State control, their is also a strong belief in the inability of the people. There is a simultaneous belief in the lack of society to organize itself properly, to do what is "in the best public interest", or to even adopt the best values and belief systems and so forth. As such, when one holds these things to be true, I suppose it is not totally absurd to think that the reason for the current flaws in society (that they view as a ball of clay to be molded by the State), is that the State was not given enough power to do its job properly and therefore some evil entity (in this case corporations) imputed these negative characteristics upon the defenseless people whom had but no choice to acquiesce and take the shape of lonely people devoid of experiencing deep emotions.

It's not the most appealing viewpoint when you take the time to break down its foundation and the various implications associated with an interventionist policy. I suppose that is why you never see it done...

I happen to feel Cornel West's conclusion is overly simplistic and wrong. I would expect the true cause to be a much more complex scenario. One in which personal responsibility and ownership would play a more prominent role. The hundreds of millions of interactions that occur within the free market to contribute to shaping the final product we refer to as society today is an extremely complex process and it seems myopic to attempt to point to one event or one entity as the primary cause for any particular trend of characteristic present in society. I strongly doubt Cornel West or any similar intellectual would ever make such a mistake if they were analyzing any other subject matter besides that of politics and sociology, a field in which the greatness of the democratic State has been ingrained so deeply that one is more likely to encounter anti-free market zealots than unbiased, objective, and rational analysis.

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