Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Down To The Wire

This condensed version of a talk Wire creator David Simon gave in Sydney recently is very interesting. Even for those with literal interest in US politics (and who don't believe the US is anything more than a test-case for where the Tory party sees the UK heading), it might be of interest just in terms of how Simon's politics were built into his most famous show from the ground up.

I don't think I'd sign up for all of what Simon is saying - it's not clear that consumer culture only becomes a problem once a country's internal social contract breaks down, and he makes a distinction between racial oppression and economic oppression that perhaps buries the link between the two - but his piece raises two very important points.

The first always reminds me of the time I argued with a libertarian who simply refused to listen to anything Keynes said on the subject of the economy because Keynes once said the government might want to bury treasure and pay people to dig it up. The fact that this idea isn't as stupid as it sounds (hiring people to do jobs that cost the government money is how stimulus packages basically work, and work they do) isn't the point. The point is that my opponent believed saying one arguably silly thing was enough to utterly invalidate all other comments by that same person. 

(This from a man who venerated Milton Friedman, who offered economic advice to Augusto Pinochet during the latter's brutal oppression of his own people, and who insisted in his final years that Islamofascism was the greatest threat the world economy faced, but I digress.)

In practice, this is transparently a tactic to avoid having to listen to and process conflicting arguments.  If you can dismiss someone as a crank, you don't have to pay attention any more [1].  It's the quickest ticket to epistemic closure one can think of short of locking oneself in a vault with nothing but ten years of emergency rations and a copy of Atlas Shrugged. Reasonable people can argue over how sensible Marx's alternatives to the capitalist state actually were, but Simon is right; that has nothing to do with how accurate Marx's criticisms were. Acting otherwise is just lazy, hackish anti-thought.

The second important point is this: you have to be straight-up out of your mind at this point to look at the state of company/employee relations in the US as a whole and conclude unions are the problem.  This was always a fiction, but perhaps once it was fiction of a Raymond Chandler stripe.  These days, it's fan fiction Dan Brown would be ashamed to print, or at least it would be if not for the staggering amount of money available for doing so.

Acquiring money simply cannot be so unquestionably awesome as to allow no breaks upon the process.  Unions simply cannot be so unquestionably unhelpful that there can be no situation in which they are not necessary. That so few of those who argue the contrary - or always seem to in practice, at least - can do so without pointing to the spectres of Stalinism and general strikes should tell you all you need to know.

[1] Dismissing someone as a liar/bullshitter is something else entirely, of course.

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