Category Archive 'Conformity'

13 Oct 2020

“Incorporated America”

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Zman finds 21st Century corporate conformism a lot worse than that of the previous century.

America is now a corporation, rather than a country. It is why the public space is being transformed into something that looks like a corporate training center. You don’t go there to express an opinion or advance your interests, but to learn the latest policies. The person in charge sees herself as a facilitator, using behavioral techniques she learned in graduate school, in order to help you reach your potential an employee.

Just look at how the big social media platforms censure people. It is not traditional censorship we would see in an ideological state. Instead, the first violation gets you a day off to think about what you have done. The next violation gets you a longer bit of time off, which everyone knows means you’re on the list. The next downsizing means you get let go, regardless of your performance. Finally, like an employee that never fit into the corporate culture, you’re fired from the platform.

Note too that the enforcers at these firms clearly share information with one another about violators. One day the problematic user wakes up and his Twitter has been suspended, his Facebook is deleted and his YouTube channel nuked. This happens for the same reason the HR department ticks the box “Not eligible for rehire” when you’re riffed out of the place. It is not about you. You’re dead to them now. It is a service to their peers, so they can avoid hiring the same mistake.

This is why our radicals now sound like every human resource department and our politicians look like everyone at a corporate retreat. The managerial elite is imposing its corporate sensibilities on the country. The dreary sameness we see all around us is what you see inside every corporation. Everything must serve the point of the enterprise, even the aesthetic. Everything is subject to the quest for efficiency, so everything that makes life interesting is removed.

The regions of the country are no longer unique cultures with unique histories, but subsidiaries that must be normalized into the cooperate culture. Movies and television are repetitive and shallow, because corporate culture eschews creativity as risky and embraces banality because it is predictable and safe. Sports are drenched in identity politics because cross-marketing says the way to promote a new product is to attach it to the most successful product in the catalog.

Corporations travel a well-known arc. They start with a frontier mentality, in which the creative and daring control the enterprise. They are trying to develop a new market or subvert an existing market, so they can’t follow old rules. This attracts people who are goal oriented, not process oriented. This is the culture of every start-up, which is why they can find new ways to attack the market and maneuver the company around larger, better established competitors.

That success eventually outgrows the capacity of the start-up culture. Eventually, the people being hired to do the things the enterprise needs doing need to be managed and that means managers and rules. A new type of employee is brought in, the sort who enjoys the process. They enjoy creating employee manuals. Soon they are joined by another type of employee, who values conformity. Her job is to make sure everyone follows the rules and does so with enthusiasm.

This is the current phase of Corporate America. The thing that matters most to the managers is not ideology. In the corporate state, ideology is about as authentic and meaningful as corporate culture. It is just a veneer to decorate the latest HR effort to boost morale. What matters to them is the quest to assimilate the wide range of assets now under corporate control. If you step back and look at the current crisis, it is not an ideological battle, but a war on variety and exception.

This is, in part, why the elites hate Trump. It’s not his politics, as his politics, stripped of the carny act, are rather conventional. They hate Trump because he is the guy who laughed at the white diversity trainer when she shared her painful experiences of oppression at Princeton. They hate him because he just wants to do his job and have a life and an identity outside the company. For the champions of the corporate state, nothing can exist outside the state.


17 Feb 2014

Who Would Be a Good Nazi?

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Dorothy Thompson, back in August of 1941, published an article in Harper’s discussing the susceptibility of various types of person to succumbing to the influence of fashion, of conformity, of opportunism, and to the appeal of the mass movement.

It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know. I have gone through the experience many times—in Germany, in Austria, and in France. I have come to know the types: the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers. And I also know those who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis.

Wikipedia article on Dorothy Thompson.

Those of us in the Baby Boom generation who lived through the time of the Anti-Vietnam War Movement saw plenty of the kinds of joiners Dorothy Thompson describes.

Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

05 Apr 2013

“What Does Bowdoin Teach?”

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Bowdoin’s Art Museum

Back in the 1960s, Bowdoin’s College Bowl team mopped up on the television contest show whose questions focused on academic knowledge. I thought seriously of going there, but took Yale’s offer instead simply because the larger university offered an even greater selection of course offerings.

Bowdoin is still generally regarded highly. In fact, it is ranked sixth in liberal arts by U.S. News & World Report. But a new study by the National Association of Scholars, released on Wednesday, contends that Bowdoin has become an instrument for partisan indoctrination with Progressive ideology.

Bowdoin boasts of training its students in critical thinking. The NAS study concludes:

[Allegedly] Bowdoin’s emphasis [is] on “critical thinking,” but the real… emphasis [is] on politics. Politics is enthroned at Bowdoin where Reason once reigned. Like all usurpers, this one presents itself as the legitimate heir of the old order. Bowdoin manages this substitution by claiming that Reason all along was political and that “truth claims,” seen accurately through the lens of “critical thinking,” are only assertions of self-interest by the powerful. Since everything was politics anyway, why not promote the politics you prefer? This is the short route to replacing open-minded liberal education with political activism centered on diversity, multiculturalism, same-sex marriage, sustainability, etc.

So, despite Bowdoin’s lack of cohesive intellectual order, it is a “whole” and can be examined as something that possesses organic unity. In that light, our guiding questions were: What kinds of knowledge does Bowdoin emphasize or prize? What does it want all Bowdoin students to learn? What does it want all Bowdoin faculty members to teach? What intellectual habits and attitudes does it cultivate? What understanding of the unity of knowledge does it prompt students to recognize? What divisions of knowledge? What abiding perplexities and matters for lifelong study? What moral yearnings does it plant in the souls of students? How does it urge students to comprehend the self, and what qualities does it uphold as worthy of pursuit? What qualities as better restrained or overcome? How should we treat other people? What obligations do we have as citizens? What are our obligations of stewardship to the achievements of past generations? What are our obligations to the generations to come? What combination of knowledge and character represents an ideal towards which students should strive? What is the good life? What is the good society?

Bowdoin does not spend much time debating possible answers. Rather, it has settled doctrine that informs students what sorts of knowledge, habits, dispositions, and aspirations are desirable. What does Bowdoin want all students to learn? The importance of diversity, respect for “difference,” sustainability, the social construction of gender, the need to obtain “consent,” the common good, world citizenship, and critical thinking. The answers embedded in these terms are not, as we have noted, arrived at by careful weighing of arguments and evidence. The general procedure has been for the college president to announce a “commitment,” such as President Mills’s announcement in 2007 that he had signed the “College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment,” or the College’s 2009 release of its “Carbon Neutrality Implementation Plan.” The same procedures underlie Bowdoin’s creation of the Studies programs, its commitment to minority student recruitment, and its determination to increase the number of minority and women faculty members.

All of these decisions may well have captured the prevailing views of Bowdoin faculty members and students. They might well have, therefore, prevailed in open debate. But as far as we can tell, there was no meaningful debate. Without hesitation, Bowdoin skips to certainties on some of the most contentious issues of our time. What most should be subject to debate never is.
When critical thinking is most necessary, it is most absent. What happens at the level of college policy is reflected at the level of college culture. When Bowdoin speaks of the “common good,” when it promotes “diversity” and “inclusivity” and apotheosizes “difference,” it is similarly by-passing debate on the idea s that are at the center of the great debates in America today. Rather than give these debates a respectful and full hearing, the college pre-empts them with closed-minded orthodoxies.

Of course, not only Bowdoin practices this same kind of one-sided, ideological indoctrination. Yale certainly does, as well –to one degree or another– as every other elite university and college in America.

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