Oh the times! Oh the customs!

Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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31 Responses

  1. Aaron W says:

    I just don’t want that force to dehumanize local communities any more than I want a country overrun with strip malls and corporate coffee shops. Maybe it is just aesthetics, but something about sameness and repetition really freaks me out.

    Maybe you should move to Berkeley or San Francisco. They do a lot to encourage local businesses while pushing the corporate chains out.Report

  2. tom van dyke says:

    A League of Lukewarm Water, passed off as wisdom.

    To carry the physics analogy to its conclusion, there is a substantive difference between a planet that human beings can live on and a singularity.

    Especially a black hole. Subsidiarity and statism cannot be averaged out. To believe they can be, or to attempt to stand above them both and laugh is folly, not wisdom.Report

  3. Robert Cheeks says:

    This is a good series.
    The founders got it right and I’ll make my stand with ’em boys.
    A strong state gummint, with the federal senators choosen by the state legislature working to defend the states’ interest and disempower the centralizing tendencies of the fed; “’em damn consolidators.”
    And, state elected officials working to combat the effects of ‘globalization’ while implementing nullification and similar pro-state legislation.

    “I think my vision of subsidiarity is actually very compatible with a strong central government; every parish still looks to Rome after all. I just don’t want that force to dehumanize local communities any more than I want a country overrun with strip malls and corporate coffee shops. ”
    Am I wrong or isn’t this just the opposite poly-sci of the founding generation who understood the nature of human nature? Has not the consolidating tendencies of the Obama regime et al, reinforced the evils of centralization?
    I’m not sure what, in history, encourages you to seek to empower the central gummint? Surely, the history of the past century illustrates the unhappy results of such folly?Report

    • > And, state elected officials working to combat the effects
      > of ‘globalization’ while implementing nullification and
      > similar pro-state legislation.

      I’m curious as to what this actually looks like.Report

      • Robert Cheeks in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

        I am too, Pat!
        However, at this point in our history I’m thinking something like that may not be a bad idea at all. I’m figuring we can trade with those nations who are willing to trade straight up/free trade????, and those nations that don’t we tariff the hell outta ’em and give our industries a chance.
        I have no clue if it’ll work. I suppose I’m looking for the great unwashed to figure out that they have to do something to protect themselves and that ‘something’ might as well have its roots in the founding and not in some Hegelian/Marxist wetdream that is doomed to the same sort of failure the current Hegelian/Marxist wetdream is experiencing.Report

  4. Kolohe says:

    Speaking of ‘oh tempura’, during the same era that BlaiseP discussed, although the Keirestsu were famously buying up America*, ironically(?)in many other sectors, particularly retail and restauranting, the Japanese had significant cultural and legal obstacles towardly ‘wal-marting’ all their mom&pop operations. (Still do, I think – it’s one of the many facets of their long term malaise, as a lot of these small firms are also tied up in the banking/real estate clusterfark that hampered them for over a decade)

    *how’d that work out, btw?Report

  5. Sam MacDonald says:

    A few points:

    “they suckered the federal government first”

    I am not sure this is entirely accurate. Many of the Japanese firms were actually bullied (via threats of tariffs) to open plants in the US. I believe Sandy Berger was one of the brokers of such deals.

    Second, I am still leary of the idea of local businesses working closely with governments to achieve _______. Having the city council tell me I CANNOT sell my property to a developer they do not like does not seem a great deal better than telling me I MUST sell my property to a developer they do like. It’s like Kelo in reverse. If I own a storefront and Subway makes me an offer to buy or lease it, it’s not like you are powerless. You can outbid them. If you cannot outbid them, that might have at least something to do with the fact that you will not do as much business at that same location. Which has to mean something.

    Finally, I think this could all be resolved, once and for all, by having a national reconsideration of Gung-Ho. Seriously. I cannot think of a movie (or book) that pokes at these anxieties more effectively. The fact that Norm from Cheers and Pittsburgh’s own Michael Keaton are in it makes it even more effective.Report

    • Herb in reply to Sam MacDonald says:

      Ain’t that tough enough…Bwahhhhh.

      Actually, I thought of Gung Ho when reading about the Japanese factories, too. I’m going to have to watch it again –remember when Keaton was funny?– but only for entertainment. It didn’t have much to say in 1986, and I suspect it has even less to say now.Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to Sam MacDonald says:

      Gung Ho was the cry of the Chinese river boatmen, literally “all together”, as the men on the shore strained on the tow ropes, pulling the boat upstream.

      Yes, the Japanese companies were bullied, somewhat, but their economic judo was smarter than the American politicians. You see, they had gone to K Street, where they’d spent great sums of money. They watched the lobbyists chivvy the long list of our Congresscritters. It didn’t take them long to realize each of these Elected Bozos had a State after his name on the meishi. Why bother with the Federal Government when corporations are entities of the several states?

      The Japanese promptly cut out the Federal middlemen and began to play the States off against each other.Report

    • Bo in reply to Sam MacDonald says:

      I cannot think of a movie (or book) that pokes at these anxieties more effectively

      I haven’t seen Gung Ho, but that won’t stop me from recommending Network, i.e the ‘I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it any more’ movie. There’s a scene in it where the deranged newsman has just gotten his viewers to squelch a Saudi buyout of the company he works for, much to the chagrin of his bosses. So he’s brought in for a little chat with the CEO.

      I’m also partial to Local Hero.Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to Sam MacDonald says:

      Gung Ho was an exceedingly stupid movie, repulsively condescending and blankly ignorant of how the Japanese manage people and enterprises. I could write a whole book on this subject.

      The Japanese work ethic, as anyone who’s ever actually seen Japanese at work, is amazingly similar to American work ethic. They lie, cheat, cover for each other, go out drinking after work and gossip in nemawashi, where even the low-level management cadre will turn up, put their badges in their pockets and chime in with their own gripes. The Japanese genuinely admire our work ethic: Americans won’t just sit around and stare at a broken piece of machinery like a pig looking at a wristwatch, amerikajin will wrap the break up in duct tape and soldier on.

      Ignored in his own country, W Edwards Deming went to Japan, where his principles of management and efficiency were taken to heart. It certainly wasn’t a Japanese invention, this keiretsu conglomerate. It arose from Deming’s Fourth Principle of sole-sourcing and trust-building.

      The Japanese have always lived in the shadow of other cultures. The very word kanji means Chinese Characters. The Japanese have always studied the West, taking from it what seemed best in their eyes, making it their own.

      A prophet hath no honour in his own country, we are told in the Gospel of John. The Brits took our own blues and gave them back to us in the 1960s. The Indians now crank out deferential worker bees to write the crappy software with which we must all contend these days. The Chinese exploit their own workers with all the gusto of a Carolina cotton mill. That which we despise and fear in others originated on our own shores.Report

      • Robert Cheeks in reply to BlaiseP says:

        I dunno, I always thought human nature was pretty universal.Report

        • BlaiseP in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

          Well sure. Still, every culture clings to its own idiosyncrasies and customs, leading to all sorts of misunderstandings. From my own experience over several decades in and out of the Japanese milieu, I’ve concluded the Japanese believe their culture cannot be understood by outsiders. Thus, despite years of mastering Japanese, I now pretend I don’t understand it. If someone does find out (usually to the great consternation of all and sundry), I loudly protest mikka bozu. I am the monk of three days.

          There are several ways to interpret that phrase. Usually it implies a quitter, for the life of a novice monk is hard, hard, hard. Many would-be monks quit at this point and nobody stops them. An alternate interpretation is a know-it-all, who believes after three days he has mastered The Way. The last, and my own personal interpretation, is this: every monk was once a monk-of-three-days.Report

      • Sam M in reply to BlaiseP says:

        “Gung Ho was an exceedingly stupid movie, repulsively condescending and blankly ignorant of how the Japanese manage people and enterprises.”

        That’s why it’s so important.

        “It didn’t have much to say in 1986…”

        I would agree, and would counter that it has more to say ABOUT 1986. To me, it’s almost like discussing something like Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Did that offer an accurate portrayal of real life in the West? Of course not. But the fact that it existed and was popular says something about America’s perceptions, hopes and anxieties about the West.

        I was born and raised in western PA, and I am old enough to remember all the people flabbergasted by the Japanese juggernaut. They mostly focused on the fact that they wore MATCHING OVERALLS and did JUMPING JACKS. Oh man… how do we compete with THAT?

        It’s easy to remember 1986 as the precursor to the computer age. But at the time, all I remember is a bunch of guys bemoaning the fact that the mills were closed, and Terry Bradshaw had somehow devolved into Mark Malone.Report

      • tom van dyke in reply to BlaiseP says:

        BlaiseP, I look forward to your promised future condemnations and defenses against the unrush of Kojève’s Universal and Homogeneous State [UHS].

        Starbucks doesn’t bother me so much. It’s a fad. Although as with England, I do believe there will always be a McDonalds. It’s a darned good burger, although I’m a flame-broiled Burger King man meself.Report

        • BlaiseP in reply to tom van dyke says:

          I’ve been casting about in a desultory fashion for something worth an essay. Alexandre Kojève is as good a topic as any.Report

          • tom van dyke in reply to BlaiseP says:

            Oh, please do run with M. Kojève, BlaiseP. Fukuyama is his epigone, and easily dispatched in the current climate. Kojève was the philosophical godfather of the European Union, the future, a UHS. If we can extract him from the neo-con controversy via Fukuyama, we could get down to some brass tacks.

            My own view is that the question is no longer Athens and Jerusalem, but Paris and Mecca. ;-}Report

            • BlaiseP in reply to tom van dyke says:

              Here I sit, in my housecoat, listening to Harold Budd and Brian Eno, The Pearl, fifteen browser tabs open, my metaphorical fingers running up and down the seldom-practiced scales of Heidegger. The essay has already galloped away, intent upon a preliminary discursion on Niger Republic, Kwame Nkrumah, post-colonial Africa and Nelson Mandela’s vision of a United States of Africa.

              See, I’d never have thought to write this essay without a good push. Thanks.Report

        • DensityDuck in reply to tom van dyke says:

          Starbucks is a fad? Yeah, just like that Mickey Donald place. It’ll never catch on, people like the local diner too much to go somewhere else.Report

  6. stuhlmann says:

    “Harking back to Sam Smith’s ur-screed, bemoaning the Liberal instinct to concentrate and modernize, from whence the worthy E. D. Kain began his progresso-libertarian riff on Less Gummint and Moral Autonomy, I’d like to venture an opinion, based on astrophysics.”

    I guess successful corporations are all run by liberals, since concentrate and modernize is how they grow.Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to stuhlmann says:

      Many successful corporations are run by Liberals. The Wicked Old Plutocrat is generally to be found bilking the Gummint, doing end runs around legislation, hiring illegal aliens and enthusiastically screwing the working man, loudly decrying the cost of lubricant.

      And which states elect these soi-disant Conservatives to high office? Why, it’s the poor states, with their grubby hands out for ever more Federal Largesse. Even Sarah Palin and her cretinous brood would climb in their covered wagon, making pilgrimage to Canada for health care.

      Conservatism has lost its good name. Deleuze once wrote about bricks. You can either build courthouses with them, or throw them through windows.

      Liberals are fundamentally pessimists, Though they’re constantly nattering to each other about Fairness, the Liberal understands life is not fair. All men are created equal but they do not remain equal. Progressive taxation, a Liberal concept, takes this into account. Health care for all recognizes a paper cut can turn to gangrene:. Liberals understand treating a seemingly-insignificant problem, while it is small, can forestall the inevitable large and expensive problem.

      So yes, these days, it’s the Liberals who run the successful corporations. They’re pragmatic enough to treat their workers well.Report

      • DensityDuck in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Of course, the conservative-troll reply to this liberal-troll would be that if you washed your goddamn hands you wouldn’t get gangrene from a paper cut.Report

  7. Kolohe says:

    3) As much political self-determination as possible at the local level. I’d be really happy if we could cut out the states as middle men and just have the federal government and local governments.

    Maybe you have expanded on this elsewhere, but a question being begged here is ‘what is local?’ Political boundaries at all levels are somewhat arbitrary (some more than others), but you can almost always divide the smallest divisions that exist now — towns, cities, and counties – into even smaller ‘sovereign’ units with sufficiently coherent political interests.Report

  8. E.C. Gach says:

    Bigness leads to estrangement and alienation. It’s harder to just shove things along, whether as a bureaucrat or a customer service rep when, when the person you are shoving along is your neighbor, and the house being foreclosed or the system your imposing is swamping the business down the street in paperwork.

    Closeness matters. It matters for communities to function, whether they are congressional communities (it’s easier to blast the other side when you don’t have to have lunch with them later that day), corporate communities (it’s easier to ruin the bank with bad loans if you’re never going to have to see them again when you skip town) or our own civic communities, where a school district can be big enough that it’s “us” and “them”, and every interested party can be cast as wholly “other”.Report

  9. Steven Donegal says:

    From this view of the subject it may be concluded that a pure democracy, by which I mean a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths. Theoretic politicians, who have patronized this species of government, have erroneously supposed that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would, at the same time, be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions.–Madison, Federalist 10.

    Experience has shown that Madison was wrong about a lot of things, but I’m not convinced he was wrong about this.Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to Steven Donegal says:

      250 years before Al Gore invented the Internet, and here’s James Madison telling us why Web2.0 and “crowdsourcing” are terrible ideas. The Founding Fathers were visionaries indeed!Report