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lemur

"Status quo" emerging from cultures of change?

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The culture of defending a "status quo" is fairly well-known and also may be called "reactionism," "realism," and/or, "conservatism" depending on the context in which these terms are used. What has occurred to me that I find interesting is that such a culture of "status quo" may actually emerge subsequently to a culture of change rather than preceding it, as might be logically expected. After all, new technologies, lifestyles, and everyday social-economic practices evolve independently, without necessarily getting incorporated into an overall worldview. However, once evolving forms become spotlighted as "change," it becomes possible to react against or control such "change" in favor of something else. Since anything that is not spotlighted as "change" would necessarily get defined as "the status quo," this culture seems to promote certain developments just by generating the notion that "elements of change" are in conflict with the "status quo" that they emerged from.

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Hegel's quip, that "philosophy always arrives too late on the scene" to understand any culural evolution, since "the Owl of Minerva flies only at night," i.e., since historical changes occur invisibly to the critical consciousness of those caught up in them, seems relevant to your point. Since history is always changing by millions of incremental steps all over the world at all times, and we are changing with the evolution of the cultural assumptions and ideologies that contextualize our own capacity to perceive things and criticize them, we wind up endorsing and defending something as the 'natural' order of things without quite realizing how we got there or why this new order seems so irresistable.

 

Thus, for example, when Barry Goldwater in 1964 espoused a political program of drastic tax cuts, heavy government spending cuts, a strong military build-up, and an aggressive foreign policy, he was defeated by the most massive electoral landslide in American history. But over the last 30 years his ideas have seemed almost irresistably entrenched in the national consciousness and they win one election after another, most recently the 2010 mid-term elections. How did this change to a new status quo occur? Was the issue between the old and the new worldviews ever explicitly debated and decided one way or the other? No: the change just snuck up on people by moves invisible to conscious rationality.

 

So it seems we cannot clearly identify ideas as those of the status quo which we should resist or accept for that reason, since our critical capacity does not stand outside those general concepts of intellectual evolution, but is instead trapped within them in a position where such general perspectives are inaccessible to analysis.

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Thus, for example, when Barry Goldwater in 1964 espoused a political program of drastic tax cuts, heavy government spending cuts, a strong military build-up, and an aggressive foreign policy, he was defeated by the most massive electoral landslide in American history. But over the last 30 years his ideas have seemed almost irresistably entrenched in the national consciousness and they win one election after another, most recently the 2010 mid-term elections. How did this change to a new status quo occur? Was the issue between the old and the new worldviews ever explicitly debated and decided one way or the other? No: the change just snuck up on people by moves invisible to conscious rationality.

Interesting and very pertinent example. It makes me wonder why Goldwater's politics seemed like such a radical challenge to the status quo at the time but during the Obama campaign (and even during the Kerry campaign after GWBush1, the democrat approach was to vote out the status quo. I may be biased for various reasons, but at some point I came the realization that the big-government vs. small-government opposition basically comes down to support for institutionalized authority vs. deconstruction of it. Somehow, however, support for institutionalized authority has become associated with progress in democrat ideology (as has conservatism become associated with republicanism, which has basically always emerged as a departure from central government and authority - first as the US independence from royal colonialism and later as anti-federalism prior to it becoming anti state-sovereignty with the civil war).

 

It's not that I'm trying to promote a political agenda, I just try to make sense of the constellation of ideological topics and how they're brought together in party ideologies. Liberalism, for example, which is traditionally derived from the idea of free market economics has become associated with liberal spending or liberal social behavior. Progress was once used to refer to industrial progress and is now used more to refer to social progress, which now seems to be associated with more regulation while social exploitation, discrimination, etc. are associated with "laissez faire" social-economic culture.

 

The thing that interests me currently is that the "going green" movement really started taking off while GWBush was still in office, and really long before that (recycling got popular in the 1990s for example). Yet once it became dominant popular culture to "go green," that facilitated the possibility of a popular backlash as people grew annoyed by having to go out of their way to "save trees, wildlife, etc," which they don't ultimately like as much as, say, their cars. So the question is whether the status quo that they are fighting to protect and rekindle isn't really the product of the popularization of the green movement in the first place. It's almost like reverse psychology using popular culture.

Edited by lemur

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The problem with attempts to determine whether general cultural and social movements are best explained as reactions against or adherences with the status quo is that first you have to make sure you have identified the 'true nature' of all the competing movements, and oftentimes they are not what they seem to be at first glance. Sometimes identifying their true nature and locating them on the spectrum of conformist or anti-conformist, reactionary or innovative, status quo or revolutionary, can lead to an infinite regress of analysis which never gets us to the level of abstraction you want to focus on.

 

Thus for example, we might wonder whether the big government/little government split now is really all about support for institutionalized power or opposition to it, since some might argue that big government, which is under the democratic control of millions of small-scale power sources -- the electorate -- actually winds up opposing the institutionalized power which most threatens the freedom of the electorate, which is the power of capitalist corporations.

 

Or the fact that the green movement advanced significantly during the last Bush administration may be best explained by the theory that the whole environmentalist crusade is actually a right-wing movement in support of Bush, et al, because it serves to deflect progressive interest from the redistribution of wealth and social justice, and instead harmlessly channels it into fretting about things which do not directly argue for the transfer of wealth from the rich to the poor, such as saving polar bears, reducing greenhouse gases, not cutting down trees at Christmas, saving cute little mice from bad medical experiments, etc.

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The problem with attempts to determine whether general cultural and social movements are best explained as reactions against or adherences with the status quo is that first you have to make sure you have identified the 'true nature' of all the competing movements, and oftentimes they are not what they seem to be at first glance. Sometimes identifying their true nature and locating them on the spectrum of conformist or anti-conformist, reactionary or innovative, status quo or revolutionary, can lead to an infinite regress of analysis which never gets us to the level of abstraction you want to focus on.

 

Thus for example, we might wonder whether the big government/little government split now is really all about support for institutionalized power or opposition to it, since some might argue that big government, which is under the democratic control of millions of small-scale power sources -- the electorate -- actually winds up opposing the institutionalized power which most threatens the freedom of the electorate, which is the power of capitalist corporations.

 

Or the fact that the green movement advanced significantly during the last Bush administration may be best explained by the theory that the whole environmentalist crusade is actually a right-wing movement in support of Bush, et al, because it serves to deflect progressive interest from the redistribution of wealth and social justice, and instead harmlessly channels it into fretting about things which do not directly argue for the transfer of wealth from the rich to the poor, such as saving polar bears, reducing greenhouse gases, not cutting down trees at Christmas, saving cute little mice from bad medical experiments, etc.

You basically get at the problem with Marxian macrosocial-cultural analysis, which is that what counts as the false consciousness of the workers depends on who is defined as the dominant class. I try to avoid this problem of attributing ideology to classes by assuming that ideology is essentially free-floating and people basically interact with ideological messages according to personal genealogies of experience and/or discourse. So while some people might be promoting environmentalism as a diversion from social-equity issues, other people might be focussing on social-equity issues to preserve their position of privilege by representing themselves as progressive. I think it was while reading Rian Malan's book about apartheid that I realized that the elite chooses socialism/communism as a political agenda because it offers them hope of protection from the wrath of the oppressed. This doesn't mean that everyone in a position of privilege chooses egalitarian politics for this reason, just that it makes sense when they do.

 

Anyway, I'm not so much interested in explaining the class-determination of political ideologies as I am in seeing the mechanics of ideology in-and-of-itself outside of social-group attribution. If the "status quo" is a by-product that results from the identification of "change," it would be quite a reversal from the common-sense assumption that "change' is a reaction to "the status quo," which is presumed to exist prior to any departure from it.

 

 

 

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It seems that the key move in your reasoning is the assumption that the formation and collapse of ideologies is primarily driven by the response of people to ideas according to "their personal genealogies/discourse," thus giving primacy to psychological/biographical motivations over class interests, ideological indoctrinations, or other broader historical forces. It seems that you would have to prove the primacy of personal genealogies as a motive force for the adherence to or rejection of general ideologies before you could have a secure footing for the rest of your theory.

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It seems that the key move in your reasoning is the assumption that the formation and collapse of ideologies is primarily driven by the response of people to ideas according to "their personal genealogies/discourse," thus giving primacy to psychological/biographical motivations over class interests, ideological indoctrinations, or other broader historical forces. It seems that you would have to prove the primacy of personal genealogies as a motive force for the adherence to or rejection of general ideologies before you could have a secure footing for the rest of your theory.

Well, first you should reflect on where you developed the ideology of planting your flag on top of a hill and telling me I have to fight uphill to defend my idea against yours. I could just as easily say that you have to first establish "class interests, ideological indoctrinations, or other broader historical forces" over the empiricism of individuals and inter-individual cultural interactions. Really, you're right that "class interests, ideological indoctrinations, and other broader historical forces" can all influence ideological discourse at the individual level. It's just that you can't simply assume that these macro events occur at a macro level independent of the micro level of individuals. Individuals are simply not determined by macro patterns when you observe how they work at the individual psychological level. So to have a reasonable discussion about this, we would really have to take a specific concrete empirical example and analyze it at the level of empirical details. It is tedious to do, but it is the only way to get at the actual ways in which ideological culture is exchanged and negotiated in practice.

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Another way to look at it is the status quo is easier to follow. One doesn't need to fully understand everything, but simply needs to memorize and follow. Even without understanding, one has the weight of the bigger group behind you, therefore that choice gives one a secure place to stand, right or wrong. The emergent requires more effort and skill since it is evolving quickly. Simply memorizing and following will be no match when the other team outnumbers you. It will be a slaughter. However, those who do their work have a strategic advantage.

 

It sort of analogous to the movie Spartan, where the few find a pinch point to funnel the might of that huge army, thereby shifting the battle in their favor. The skilled Spartans were better equipped to battle when the battle come down to one on one or two on one. As the huge army gets exhausted the ranks begin to unravel.

 

The emergent may then may become the new status quo, where the herd once again memorizes and depends on the size of this growing army to overcome others with smaller armies that use the same battle plan. But emergence appears again and again, finding the skills and pinch point to win.

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Another way to look at it is the status quo is easier to follow. One doesn't need to fully understand everything, but simply needs to memorize and follow. Even without understanding, one has the weight of the bigger group behind you, therefore that choice gives one a secure place to stand, right or wrong. The emergent requires more effort and skill since it is evolving quickly. Simply memorizing and following will be no match when the other team outnumbers you. It will be a slaughter. However, those who do their work have a strategic advantage.

 

It sort of analogous to the movie Spartan, where the few find a pinch point to funnel the might of that huge army, thereby shifting the battle in their favor. The skilled Spartans were better equipped to battle when the battle come down to one on one or two on one. As the huge army gets exhausted the ranks begin to unravel.

 

The emergent may then may become the new status quo, where the herd once again memorizes and depends on the size of this growing army to overcome others with smaller armies that use the same battle plan. But emergence appears again and again, finding the skills and pinch point to win.

There are some interesting points here. However, my point was on the idea of "status quo" as an idea separate from any underlying materiality that may or may not validate its being called that. Take another example of a popular media trend: "globalization." People have been traveling around and trading for all of history but suddenly when the media started talking about "globalization," an "anti-globalization" backlash was created. People were suddenly bothered by the "transnationality" of "multinational" corporations, media, culture, etc. This, in turn, promoted the idea that national isolation was a status-quo to be defended. See the pattern?

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Seen at a higher level of generality, this issue is simply the question: Which of the countless theoretical perspectives on reality become thematized? -- since the perspectives isolated for labeling, comment, and public obsession determine what constitutes the status quo and are also what determine the potential conscious back-lashes against it.

 

The power to determine which issues are thematized has often been seen as the key to controlling society, since democratic processes themselves can only operate within the channels marked out for them by the elites which pre-select the topics for debate. Thus for example if 9/11 had been regarded as a single, extraordinary criminal act by a small group of people most of whom were dead as soon as the crime occurred, the whole idea of a 'war on terrorism' would never have been thematized in order for it to determine our basic political orientation ever since, or our new 'status quo' of hypervigilence, aggressive foreign policy, loss of civil liberties, huge investments in security, etc.

 

But other equally important or even more important issues never emerge to public consciousness because the elites who could thematize them never choose to weave these issues into the status quo consciousness. The decline of high culture, the growing gap between rich and poor, the waste of national wealth in excess military spending, are all neglected as issues informing the predominant concerns of the status quo perspective on reality, and the decision to neglect them is as important in shaping the evolution of the world as the decision to over-emphasize other issues, like AIDS, childhood obesity, identity politics, polar bear population size, etc.

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The power to determine which issues are thematized has often been seen as the key to controlling society, since democratic processes themselves can only operate within the channels marked out for them by the elites which pre-select the topics for debate. Thus for example if 9/11 had been regarded as a single, extraordinary criminal act by a small group of people most of whom were dead as soon as the crime occurred, the whole idea of a 'war on terrorism' would never have been thematized in order for it to determine our basic political orientation ever since, or our new 'status quo' of hypervigilence, aggressive foreign policy, loss of civil liberties, huge investments in security, etc.

I don't know if the power to "determine" which issues gain public attention is that deterministic. I think that there are discourses that are established in individual minds/consciousness and that new issues are negotiated in terms of familiar ideologies. I believe this called "frame alignment." Still you're right that there are a number of ideological tactics to trivialize or raise the importance of particular issues and these are the ammunition constantly deployed in media channels and political rhetoric.

 

As for the war on terror, I have come to see it as an epic approach to authoritarian-ideology that actually preceded 9/11. It is an interesting discursive tactic because what it does is basically take the authoritarian view that power comes from above and critically challenges it on various levels. So, for example, centrally-controlled organized military forces become replaced with decentralized relatively autonomous "cells." The comforting belief that national governments are headed by strong leaders who protect and serve their "loyal flocks" gets replaced by the idea that such leaders are power-hungry dictators who should be ousted from their position. And generally, all the fear that is installed by an effective centralized top-down strategy of governance is pushed to its limits and thus deconstructed in public and individual consciousness. So, for example, shadow threats of governance such as spying (wire-tapping), torturous interrogation, etc. which are traditionally kept alive in the hearts of citizen-subjects by promise of protection or "that only happens elsewhere so you're safe at home" - these "absent presences" are recoded as presently-occurring events. This causes an initial outpouring of emotion as the public gets confronted with the arrival of fears previous used to contain them, but as they become desensitized from it they become liberated from the fear of absent-yet-potential danger. This is and was ultimately the purpose of having warfare itself, as I recall, since GWBush once explained that it's not possible to have peace without war (Mao said the same thing, btw). Many people are still at war with war-itself in their hearts/minds, but I believe they are more at peace with their personal anti-war war than they were at the time war began. Do you disagree?

 

 

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