• All governments lie, but disaster lies in wait for countries whose officials smoke the same hashish they give out.

  • I.F. Stone

maandag 12 juni 2017

Geert Mak als Graadmeter 2


Het conformisme van de ‘populairste geschiedenisleraar van het land,’ mijn oude vriend Geert Mak, leidt tot uitspraken als deze, die hij op 29 april 2013 deed: 

Er zijn machten aan de gang boven Europa, ik zeg echt bóven Europa, het klassieke woord grootkapitaal doet hier zijn intrede. Ik heb er nooit zo in geloofd, maar nu wel, die ons totaal ontglipt en waar je niks tegen kunt doen! En dat vind ik buitengewoon beklemmend.

Dit algemeen bekende feit was voor hem zo’n openbaring dat zelfs de klankkleur van zijn stem veranderde. Niet alleen had Mak ontdekt wat elke eerstejaars student economie leert, elke academicus uit de andere sociale wetenschappen weet, en iedere werknemer die zich niet heeft laten hersenspoelen, hij wist tevens te melden dat die economische macht ‘ons totaal ontglipt.’ Bovendien vertelde zijn 'gevoel' hem dat ‘iedereen die een beetje bij zinnen is moet nadenken over vormen waarmee je je daartegen kunt verweren.’ Vier jaar later, op 14 februari 2017, verklaarde dezelfde Mak met dezelfde stelligheid: 

Het Europese project is vanaf het allereerste begin gebouwd op de grondbeginselen van de Verlichting, op de rechtsstaat, de democratie en de vrijheid van meningsuiting.

Men hoeft geen hoogleraar te zijn om in te zien dat het ‘Europese project’ onmogelijk ‘gebouwd’ kan zijn op ‘de democratie en de vrijheid van meningsuiting,’ en tegelijkertijd in handen zijn van het ‘grootkapitaal’ dat ‘ons totaal ontglipt en waar je niks tegen kunt doen!’ Waarom is Geert Mak dan toch de meest gelauwerde journalist/auteur in Nederland? Waarom is er niemand van de mainstream-polderpers die hem ter verantwoording roept voor het feit dat hij in een handomdraai zijn mening kan aanpassen? Wat vertelt dit over het intellectueel niveau van het land waarin u en ik leven?

De ideologische opvattingen van mainstream-opiniemakers kampen met een ernstig gebrek aan accuratesse, aan logica, en aan wijsheid, typerend genoeg, een in onbruik geraakt begrip. Wanneer  Mak beweert dat ‘de grondbeginselen van de Verlichting’  in de praktijk ‘de rechtsstaat, de democratie en de vrijheid van meningsuiting’ betekenen, dan manifesteert zich onmiddellijk zijn slordigheid. In werkelijkheid omvatte de ‘Enlightenment a range of ideas centered on reason as the primary source of authority and legitimacy,’ waaruit de ‘ideals like liberty, progress, tolerance, fraternity, constitutional government, and separation of church and state’ voortvloeiden. Kortom, het grondbeginsel bij uitstek van de ‘Verlichting’ is ‘reason,’ oftewel ‘de rede.’ De ‘Verlichting’ was 

een reactie op het dogmatische autoriteitsgeloof. In deze periode ontstond een culturele stroming of beweging van intellectuelen met als doel het gebruik van de rede en het filosoferen te bevorderen. De rede gaat alleen maar af op feiten, hoe verborgen die ook zijn. De Verlichting stond aldus voor bevordering van de wetenschap en intellectuele uitwisseling. De propagandisten ervan bestreden het bijgeloof, misbruik van recht in kerk en staat, intolerantie en kwamen op voor zekere grondrechten.

Al in de jaren vijftig identificeerde de prominente Amerikaanse socioloog C. Wright Mills

five overarching social problems in American society: 1) Alienation; 2) Moral insensibility; 3) Threats to democracy; 4) Threats to human freedom; and 5) Conflict between bureaucratic rationality and human reason. Like Marx, Mills views the problem of alienation as a characteristic of modern society and one that is deeply rooted in the character of work. Unlike Marx, however, Mills does not attribute alienation to capitalism alone. While he agrees that much alienation is due to the ownership of the means of production, he believes much of it is also due to the modern division of labor.

One of the fundamental problems of mass society is that many people have lost their faith in leaders and are therefore very apathetic. Such people pay little attention to politics. Mills characterizes such apathy as a ‘spiritual condition’ which is at the root of many of our contemporary problems. Apathy leads to ‘moral insensibility.’ Such people mutely accept atrocities committed by their leaders. They lack indignation when confronted with moral horror; they lack the capacity to morally react to the character, decisions, and actions of their leaders. Mass communications contributes to this condition, Mills argues, through the sheer volume of images aimed at the individual in which she ‘becomes the spectator of everything but the human witness of nothing.’

Mills relates this moral insensibility directly to the rationalization process. Our acts of cruelty and barbarism are split from the consciousness of men — both perpetrators and observers. We perform these acts as part of our role in formal organizations. We are guided not by individual consciousness, but by the orders of others. Thus many of our actions are inhuman, not because of the scale of their cruelty, but because they are impersonal, efficient. and performed without any real emotion.

Mills believed that widespread alienation, political indifference, and economic and political concentration of power is a serious all added up to a serious threat to democracy. Finally, Mills is continually concerned in his writings with the threat to two fundamental human values: ‘freedom and reason.’ Mills characterizes the trends that imperil these values as being ‘co-extensive with the major trends of contemporary society.’ These trends are, Mills states throughout his writings, the centralization and enlargement of vast bureaucratic organizations, and the placing of this extraordinary power and authority into the hands of a small elite.

Mills karakteriseerde in zijn studie The Sociological Imagination (1959) het Makkiaanse westerse ‘project’ als ‘rationality without reason,’ een systeem dat weliswaar zich rationeel ontwikkelde, maar waaraan ‘de rede’ ontbrak. De atoombom en de NAVO-doctrine van de Wederzijds Verzekerde Vernietiging is hier het meest aansprekende voorbeeld van. Collectieve zelfmoord kan natuurlijk nooit gebaseerd zijn op ‘de rede,’ wat de westerse praatjesmakers in de politiek en de massamedia ook mogen beweren. Met andere woorden: Geert Mak verspreidt gevaarlijke propaganda voor een neoliberaal en neoconservatief bureaucratisch bestel, waarbij ‘extraordinary power and authority into the hands of a small elite’ is gekomen. De overgrote meerderheid van de burgers beseft dit, al is het maar gevoelsmatig. Alleen ‘democratische’ politici en hun ‘politiek-literaire elite’ in de polder weigeren de werkelijkheid onder ogen te zien, en wel omdat hun inkomen en aanzien direct afhankelijk is van de mythe over ‘de Verlichting’ met haar vermeende ‘rechtsstaat, democratie, en vrijheid van meningsuiting.’ Alleen een doortrapte propagandist looft nu nog een systeem dat acht mensen zo rijk heeft gemaakt dat zij nu evenveel bezitten als de helft van de hele mensheid tezamen. Het enige dat Geert Mak en zijn mainstream-collega’s demonstreren is hoe visionair C. Wright Mills was toen hij 58 jaar geleden sprak van ‘rationality without reason.’ Mak en de Makkianen zijn schoolvoorbeelden van het levensgevaarlijke gebrek aan ‘rede.’ 

Belangrijk is te weten dat de consumptiecultuur weliswaar rationeel tot stand is gekomen, maar tegelijkertijd volstrekt irrationeel functioneert. Mills schreef over het individu in een massamaatschappij het volgende: 

From the individual's standpoint, much that happens seems the result of manipulation, of management, of blind drift; authority is often not explicit; those with power often feel no need to make it explicit and to justify it. That is one reason why ordinary men, when they are in trouble or when they sense that they are up against issues, cannot get clear targets for thought and for action; they cannot determine what it is that imperils the values they vaguely discern as theirs. 

Given these effects of the ascendant trend of rationalization, the individual 'does the best he can.' He gears his aspirations and his work to the situation he is in, and from which he can find no way out. In due course, he does not seek a way out: he adapts. That part of his life which is left over from work, he uses to play, to consume, 'to have fun.' Yet this sphere of consumption is also being rationalized. Alienated from production, from work, he is also alienated from consumption, from genuine leisure. This adaptation of the individual and its effects upon his milieu and self results not only in the loss of his chance, and in due course, of his capacity and will to reason; it also affects his chances and his capacity to act as a free man. Indeed, neither the value of freedom nor of reason, it would seem, are known to him. 

Such adapted men are not necessarily unintelligent, even after they have lived and worked and played in such circumstances for quite some time. Karl Mannheim has made the point in a clear way by speaking of 'self rationalization,' which refers to the way in which an individual, caught in the limited segments of great, rational organizations, comes systematically to regulate his impulses and his aspirations, his manner of life and his ways of thought, in rather strict accordance with 'the rules and regulations of the organization.' The rational organization is thus an alienating organization: the guiding principles of conduct and reflection, and in due course of emotion as well, are not seated in the individual conscience of the Reformation man, or in the independent reason of the Cartesian man. The guiding principles, in fact, are alien to and in contradiction with all that has been historically understood as individuality. It is not too much to say that in the extreme development the chance to reason of most men is destroyed, as rationality increases and its locus, its control, is moved from the individual to the big-scale organization. There is then rationality without reason. Such rationality is not commensurate with freedom but the destroyer of it. 

It is no wonder that the ideal of individuality has become moot: in our time, what is at issue is the very nature of man, the image we have of his limits and possibilities as man. History is not yet done with its exploration of the limits and meanings of human nature. We do not know how profound man's psychological transformation from the Modem Age to the contemporary epoch may be. But we must now raise the question in an ultimate form: Among contemporary men will there come to prevail, or even to flourish, what may be called The Cheerful Robot? 

We know of course that man can be turned into a robot, by chemical and psychiatric means, by steady coercion and by controlled environment; but also by random pressures and unplanned sequences of circumstances. But can he be made to want to become a cheerful and willing robot? Can he be happy in this condition, and what are the qualities and the meanings of such happiness? It will no longer do merely to assume, as a metaphysic of human nature, that down deep in man-as-man there is an urge for freedom and a will to reason. Now we must ask: What in man's nature, what in the human condition today, what in each of the varieties of social structure makes for the ascendancy of the cheerful robot? And what stands against it? 

The advent of the alienated man and all the themes which lie behind his advent now affect the whole of our serious intellectual life and cause our immediate intellectual malaise. It is a major theme of the human condition in the contemporary epoch and of all studies worthy of the name. I know of no idea, no theme, no problem, that is so deep in the classic tradition— and so much involved in the possible default of contemporary social science. 

It is what Karl Marx so brilliantly discerned in his earlier essays on 'alienation'; it is the chief concern of Georg Simmel in his justly famous essay on 'The Metropolis'; Graham Wallas was aware of it in his work on The Great Society. It lies behind Fromm's conception of the 'automaton.' The fear that such a type of man will become ascendant underlies many of the more recent uses of such classic sociological conceptions as 'status and contract,' 'community and society.' It is the hard meaning of such notions as Riesman's 'other-directed' and Whyte's 'social ethic.' And of course, most popularly, the triumph — if it may be called that — of such a man is the key meaning of George Orwell's 1984… 

The society in which this man, this cheerful robot, flourishes is the antithesis of the free society — or in the literal and plain meaning of the word, of a democratic society. The advent of this man points to freedom as trouble, as issue, and — let us hope — as problem for social scientists. Put as a trouble of the individual — of the terms and values of which he is uneasily unaware — it is the trouble called 'alienation.' As an issue for publics… it is no less than the issue of democratic society, as fact and as aspiration…

[T]he issue to which modern threats to freedom and reason most typically lead is, above all, the absence of explicit issues — to apathy  rather than to issues explicitly defined as such. The issues and troubles have not been clarified because the chief capacities and qualities of man required to clarify them are the very freedom and reason that are threatened and dwindling. Neither the troubles nor the issues have been seriously formulated as the problems of the kinds of social science I have been criticizing in this book.



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