Archive for February, 2012
In the jargon of econometrics, values are endogenous, not exogenous. The values held by individuals are products of the institutional structure in which the individual finds herself. That is, values are not pulled out of thin air by individuals. Values are learned. But the learning process of pluralism is strikingly different from that of hegemony. In a pluralistic society, the learning is active. Individuals cannot simply accept what they are taught, because different institutions teach them different things. They are forced to make choices and to defend the choices they make. Individuals are forced to take an active role in the formation of their own moral character, to synthesize creatively their own values from the competing ones they encounter all around them. Under pluralism, individuals go mad, or they acquire moral integrity.
Under hegemony, individuals go soft. In a hegemonic society, such as ours is becoming, the learning is purely passive. Individuals accept what they are taught, because all institutions teach them the same thing. The individual plays a dependent role in the value formation process of hegemony. She is not forced to make choices and defend them, so she does not synthesize or reconstruct her own values out of the competing ones she encounters. She does not acquire moral integrity.
Moral integrity is increasingly lacking in the American character. The American character is being tamed because pluralism is being lost. The diverse institutions which should be teaching contradictory values are not doing so. Emulation has emptied them of their force. But emulation has filled the corporation with the force lost by the other institutions. Rising to hegemony, corporate values are replacing the diverse values of the formerly independent church, state, family, school, and union. This is not to say that American youth are becoming loyal servants of the corporation without a struggle, for they are not. Some of them are showing refreshing new signs of moral revulsion. But it is to say that American white collar strata are coming to accept one particular set of values, beliefs, and meanings, inculcated through emulation, through mindless striving after more for me. Church, state, family, school, and union have fallen away as sources of values, beliefs, and meanings. Corporate ones have come to dominate. In the resulting corporate hegemony, moral choice and challenge are gone — so too is the moral integrity forged by making choices and by overcoming challenges. Values have become more endogenous than ever.
The reactionary right is onto something — our values, beliefs, and meanings are disintegrating, collapsing into conformity. This collapse is a very important subject for social economists to study. But the reactionary right fails to identify the real cause of the collapse, so this social economy analysis helps to set the record straight. The values corrupting us are products of corporate hegemony, not of welfare statism. The organizational revolution, not the New Deal, is the fountainhead of competitive conformity. And, the collapse into conformity is driven by emulation, not secular humanism. As more and more of us have moved into the large-scale, bureaucratic organizational world, we have taken on more and more of the values, beliefs, and meanings useful for getting ahead in that world. We have adapted to the organizational revolution. Nevertheless, we have failed to understand what has happened to us as we adapted to hegemony. Instead, we have accepted the ready-made scapegoats offered us by the reactionaries. And yet, in spite of all our confusion, some facts are hard to avoid: It was Ivan Boesky, financial capitalist, not Beatrice Washington, welfare mother, who was caught with his hand in the till to the tune of $100 million.