Tag Archives: Republican primary

Cultural Contradictions

In the primary madness of the Republican Party, much is made of the cultural divide between urban supporters of Romney, and rural supporters of Santorum. Meanwhile, an equally, if not more, consequential clash is occurring, which has received far less public attention. This is the growing conflict between cultural and economic values, a tension that sociologist Daniel Bell first pointed out thirty six years ago, in his classic book The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism.

I was first introduced to Bell’s work when working at the Office of Technology Assessment on the study Intellectual Property Rights in the Age of Electronics and Information. In fact, the ideas he discussed in “Cultural Contradictions” provided the basis for my analysis of how intellectual property rights might be affected by a changing information environment.

Daniel Bell (courtesy of us-intellectual-history.blogspot.com)

Daniel Bell (courtesy of us-intellectual-history.blogspot.com)

According to Bell, society consists of three realms–the political, economic, and cultural–each governed by differrent values and norms, or as he put it, axial principles. Looking ahead, he predicted that, as electronic technology enhanced the value of information in each of these realms, they would be brought into increasing conflict. Looking at how these conflicts might be played out in the policy arena, our OTA study concluded that:

The resolution of these issues in an information age will be more problematic. . . .Given the variety of opportunities that the new technologies afford, the increased value of information, changing relationships among the traditional participants in the intellectual property system, and rising expectations about the benefits of these technologies, the number of stake holders with disparate interests and competing claims on the system will be greater than ever before. In such a context, the granting of intellectual property rights, instead of mutually serving a variety of different stakeholders may actually pit one against another.

This theme has been developed from a variety of different angles over the last several years. For example, in his book, The Cultural Economy of Cities, Allen J. Scot, lays the groundwork for further discussion, describing how the economic and the cultural realms have converged: as he points out, today, economic products now have greatly enhanced semiotic value, whereas cultural goods are increasingly capitalized for sale. Taken together, these products comprise a rapidly growing portion of the nation’s economy, and–as Daniel Pink contends in his book Whole New Mind:Why Right Brainers Will Rule in the Future, they are the new source of America’s competitive advantage. Richard Florida would presumably agree, having argued in The Rise of the Creative Class that today’s creators now constitute a class in their own right.

Ironically, the predictions about a culture/economic clash would seem to have proven wrong. What has happened instead is the colonization of culture by the economic realm, a point that I make in my paper, Creativity: The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg. Whereas I make my case based on shifts in the architecture of the creative landscapes that allow economic actors to assume a defining role in the cultural realm, Lawrence Lessig draws a similar conclusion arguing from a legal standpoint. In his book, Free Culture he points out that, given the growing economic value of creative products, the danger today is that the laws governing the economy will come to encompass norms and activities associated with culture and creativity.

The Proof of the Pudding is in the public silence. The only place where one can see contention is in the Republican primary, where Santorum carries the banner of culture, while Romney touts economic profits.

Republicans in Wonderland

Alice_in_Wonderland  (Wikipedia)

Alice_in_Wonderland (Wikipedia)

Following the Republican Primary I feel that I am, much like Alice in Wonderland, trapped in a fantasy world full of bizarre happenings, none of which make any sense. “Curiouser and curiouser” is all I can say!

Like the unpleasant characters that Alice encounters along her way, the Republican candidates appear consumed by their own sense of importance. They contort their appearances, much like the Cheshire Cat, as they obfuscate and twist facts to suit the audience of the day. As Alice said to herself: “[They] look good natured, but [they] have very long claws and a great many teeth.” So behind the masks, Ron Paul the libertarian glad-hander is an angry bigot; Mitt Romney the conservative businessman is a closet social engineer; Gingrich the intellectual genius is unable to tell the truth; and Rick Perry the Christian preacher has forgotten about the word Love. Clearly, the candidates must have met the Duchess along the campaign trail, and taken her advice when she said:

Cheshire Cat (Disney)

Cheshire Cat (Disney)

Be what you would seem to be, or if you would like it put more simply–Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would appeared to have them to be otherwise.

Now then, how do we know where the truth lies? Certainly not by whose winning and losing. For just as Alice, upon drinking the potions and eating the mushrooms and cakes, vacillated abruptly from being ten feet tall to two inches small, so too the candidates, when imbibing the nectar of success, have had their sudden ups and downs.

The Queen of Hearts has the solution. A caucus, or better still a trial, she said. On the condition that there be no judges, Gingrich concurred. Quoting the Fury’s invitation to the mouse, he proposed:

Let us both go to law; I will prosecute YOU. . .Come I will take no denial; We must have

I'll be judge I'll be jury

I'll be judge I'll be jury

a trial; For this morning I’ve nothing to do.’ Said the mouse to the cur, Such a trial, dear Sir, With no jury or judge would be wasting our breath.’ ‘I’ll be judge, I’ll be jury, Said cunning old Fury: ‘I’ll try the whole cause and condemn you to death.’

Such nonsense can be very irritating, indeed. Like Alice I hope to wake up soon from this bad dream. Fortunately, Alice shows us the way out. Reaching the limits of her patience, Alice regains her true size and stature, and then, standing tall, she speaks the truth to absurdity.

And Then There Were None

And Then There Were None (moviesinbw.blogspot.com)

And Then There Were None (moviesinbw.blogspot.com)

Seven years my senior, my sister Judy was a role model for me. I loved just hanging around her. When she took up French, I tried to learn too. Her library books became my reading list. And when she starred in high school plays, I was her ardent fan, learning lines as she practiced them.

Most memorable of these was Agatha Cristy‘s play, And Then There Were None. (Known at the time by its politically incorrect title, Ten Little Indians.) Today, as I follow the Republican primaries, I am reminded of this marvelous mystery. For each day’s news events are every bit as suspenseful, dramatic, and unpredictable as those in Christy’s 1939 ‘who done it.’

The play’s plot centers around the mysterious deaths of 10 unrelated people who find themselves alone together on Soldier Island from which there is no escape. One by one, each is murdered, presumably at the hand of one among them, and in a sequence that mirrors the poem Ten Little Soldier Boys.

ten_little_indians_1965 (movie poster/ sharetv.org)

ten_little_indians_1965 (movie poster/ sharetv.org)

The tension mounts as each suspects the murderer to be among the others. The mystery remains unsolved as the last two visitors to the island suffer the same fate–and then there were none.

This puzzling chain of events is finally unravelled in an epilogue, thanks to the inspector who arrives on the island and pieces the clues together. It is not for me to spoil the story by recounting the elaborate explanation; as in any mystery, readers’ enjoyment comes from sorting it out for themselves. But I will take the opportunity of recalling Agatha Christy’s play to apply the Soldier Boy poem as a means of extrapolating about the totally unprecedented sequence of events and surreal atmosphere associated with the Republican Primary.

Ten Republican Candidates Seeking the Presidency.

republican debate

republican debate

Ten Republic candidates standing in a line. Palin can’t commit, and then there were nine.

Nine presidential candidates starting at the gate. Perry forgets his script, and then there were eight.

Eight presidential candidates called upon by Heaven. Pawlenty is uninspiring, and so there were seven.

Seven presidential candidates performing all their tricks, Bachman failed her civics lesson, then there were six.

Six presidential candidates trying to stay alive, Huntsman was so principled the number dropped to five.

Five presidential candidates seeking an encore, Paul couldn’t get on stage and so there were four.

Four presidential candidates making policy, Cain’s diversionary tactics puts the number at three.

Three presidential candidates set on wooing you, Santorum doesn’t stand out, oops its now just two.

Mitt and Newt battle it out, just as in the play, when they are eliminated, Obama will have his day!