A couple of more philosophical items caught my feverish eye yesterday morning – the first an elegant article in American Scholar about the “instant gratification” which, with “customisation”, has become an even more integral part of our culture than it was when Christopher Lasch first tore it apart in his 1978 The Culture of Narcissism.
I’ve excerpted a significant part of the article later in the post to whet your appetite.
The second item was a contribution by the President of the “European University Institute” to the question of how easily an independent Scotland could negotiate its way back into the European Union
His piece certainly adds a missing dimension to the discussion -
I watched the televised debates. Most of the sparring was utilitarian: Will we better off, especially economically. More employment, yes or no. Better social network, yes or no et cetera et cetera. So this is what will ultimately decide things.This runs diametrically contrary to the historical ethos of European integration. The commanding moral authority of the Founding Fathers of European integration – Schumann, Adenauer, de Gaspari and Jean Monnet himself – was a result of their rootedness in the Christian ethic of forgiveness coupled with an enlightened political wisdom which understood that it is better to look forward to a future of reconciliation and integration rather than wallow in past historical rights and identity.
There were, of course, utilitarian considerations, but they were not at the normative core.
The European Union is struggling today with a decisional structure which is already overloaded with 28 Member States but more importantly with a socio-political reality which makes it difficult to persuade a Dutch or a Finn or a German, that they have a human and economic stake in the welfare of a Greek or a Portuguese, or a Spaniard. Why would there be an interest to take into the Union a polity such as an independent Scotland predicated on a regressive and outmoded nationalist ethos which apparently cannot stomach the discipline of a multinational nation? The very demand for independence from the UK, an independence from the need to work out political, social, cultural and economic differences within the UK, independence from the need to work through and transcend whatever gripes there might be, disqualifies morally and politically Scotland and the likes as future Member States of the European Union.
Do we really need yet another Member State whose decisional criterion for Europe’s fateful decisions in the future would be “what’s in it for us”?Europe should not seem as a Nirvana for that form of irredentist Euro-tribalism which contradicts the deep values and needs of the Union. Thus, the assumption of Membership in the Union should be decisively squelched by the countries from whom secession is threatened and if their leaders, for internal political reasons lack the courage so to say, by other Member States of the Union.
So there! You're tell't!!
The American Scholar article is focusing on bigger fish - in North American culture – but resonated with me as I wrestle with the prospect of my country casting aside its link with the rest of the UK
In everything from relationships to politics to business, the emerging norms and expectations of our self-centred culture are making it steadily harder to behave in thoughtful, civic, social ways. We struggle to make lasting commitments. We’re uncomfortable with people or ideas that don’t relate directly and immediately to us. Empathy weakens, and with it, our confidence in the idea, essential to a working democracy, that we have anything in common.
Our unease isn’t new, exactly. In the 1970s, social critics such as Daniel Bell, Christopher Lasch, and Tom Wolfe warned that our growing self-absorption was starving the idealism and aspirations of the postwar era. The “logic of individualism,” argued Lasch in his 1978 polemic, The Culture of Narcissism, had transformed everyday life into a brutal social competition for affirmation that was sapping our days of meaning and joy. Yet even these pessimists had no idea how self-centred mainstream culture would become. Nor could they have imagined the degree to which the selfish reflexes of the individual would become the template for an entire society. Under the escalating drive for quick, efficient “returns,” our whole socioeconomic system is adopting an almost childlike impulsiveness, wholly obsessed with short-term gain and narrow self-interest and increasingly oblivious to long-term consequences……….
AO Hirschman, one of my favourite social scientists, wrote, in 1970, a famous book Exit, Voice, and Loyalty which came to my mind as I mused about all this. “Exit” means that individuals abandon a firm, brand, organization, or association when they are no longer satisfied and see no chance for improvement. “Voice,” by contrast, suggests that they seek improvement and want to make their preferences heard and see their choices respected. “Loyalty” characterizes one’s commitment to associations such as the family, the nation, the ethnic group, or religious congregation that are based on formative and deeply held values.
Hardly surprising that this is a book which has cropped up from time to time in the recent Scottish discussions eg Gerry Hassan in December 2012
Voice and power are central to any practice of self-determination. Hirschman argued that the right championed ‘exit’ (market solutions) and the left ‘loyalty’ (solidarity), and both prioritised these above ‘voice’. In this, voice means the collective self-organisation of people, something fundamentally missing from the public life of Scotland, for all the talk of ‘civic Scotland’ and ‘the new politics’.
Voice relates to who has power, its use, expression and dynamics, and the reality that in our society not only is it increasingly concentrated in a few economic, social and political elites, but that any countervailing forces are much weaker and more disparate in their influence. A Scottish self-determination movement would understand the importance of voice and power, and aim to aid a shift in how these are articulated and understood, supporting existing ideas and initiatives which encourage a move away from powerlessness and dependency to autonomy and empowerment at an individual and collective level.
The ideology of ‘civic Scotland’ (that subset of civil society) believes that Scotland’s supposed social democracy is enough; that our problems and challenges are external – in the British state and market fundamentalism.Not all of them are: our complacencies and silences are just as much a problem.
Our nation and society is bitterly divided, with hundreds of thousands of Scots adults and children living in poverty and hardship. The cosseted life of Scotland’s super-rich and the widespread fawning in public life and media after plutocrats and global tycoons such as Donald Trump and Rupert Murdoch, isn’t a product of external forces, but the ‘free’ choice of our politicians, public bodies and business community.
This won’t be ended by the demise of the union. Instead, Scotland needs a new collective mission and purpose which mobilises our resources to tackle and heal the divided, fragmented society we have become. That is one of the first priorities in creating and acting upon a culture of self-determination.
That led me, in turn, to three other references which should be included in the final bibliography I’ll add to my Separating – home thoughts from abroad
- an article on Who Rules Scotland? by David Miller, a chapter in a 2010 book -
Neoliberal Scotland; Class and Society in a Stateless Nation edited by Davidson, N., McCafferty, P. and Miller D
- A 2005 book Scotland 2020
- a paper on “Voice in public sector reform”
But let’s return to the instant gratification culture -
Day by day, there seem to be fewer reasons to follow the rules or think beyond oneself or the present moment. Not so long ago, we told our children that success required sustained effort, a willingness to delay gratification, and the capacity to control impulses.
Children today, however, see their patient, hard-working parents and grandparents tossed aside like old furniture—while investment bankers and reality TV stars seem to easily make huge amounts of money. Little wonder that cheating is now endemic in high school and college. …….Community and family are undermined by our consumer culture of individual gratification.
Worse, our political system, the traditional arbiter between public and private interests, has been colonized by the same bottom-line impulse. Political parties boil their philosophies down into extreme brands designed to provoke target audiences and score quick wins. Voters are encouraged to see politics as another venue for personalized consumption.
We’ve lost the idea that politics is the means to build consensus and an opportunity to participate in something larger than ourselves….. We know the result: a national political culture more divided and dysfunctional than any in living memory. All but gone are centrist statesmen capable of bipartisan compromise.
A democracy once capable of ambitious, historic ventures can barely keep government open and seems powerless to deal with challenges like debt reduction or immigration
The people of Scotland, at one level, seem to have had enough……they have tried “loyalty” (particularly to the Labour Party); and “voice” (since the discovery of oil gave the nationalists their first political breakthrough in the 1960s. Some started to exit from the Labour Party during the New Labour period – then in droves after the 2010 General Election.
But the “exit” from the UK started only months ago……when it seems that thousands of loyal “undecided” cast off that loyalty……..
There is still a lot of residual loyalty left – but the political wankers who descended yesterday on Scotland are not likely to re-ignite the passion…..
A superb biography on Hirschman was recently published - WorldlyPhilosopher – the odyssey of Albert O Hirschman – and is sitting accusingly on my bookshelves. I’m 100 pages into it but have been distracted, It is a real intellectual biography which supplements other pieces such as this and this