Sunday, April 26, 2009

more on Baumann

Got a belated comment from a reader, Glen McGhee, on an old post on Baumann, which I am now hauling out of the comments folder because I liked his quotation of Elias:

But I have to admit -- even though few recognize that Marx's first encounter with alienation was in the div of labour context -- I had not given a thought to it being a mechanism of moral displacement, or, the "social production of moral indifference."

It is, of course, just a short jump to the kinds of groupthink that threaten the global financial system.

And this is where Bauman can be extended, I think: what he calls "moral" is really also cognitive, and the creation of the kinds of moral deficits by effective bureaucracies that he describes, for example, the upwards displacement through a hierarchical chain of command, and the deficiencies that accumulate at its base, also describes the accumulation of cognitive deficits as well. The implications of this should be obvious.

But Bauman misses a chance on page 22 of having Max Weber blow his horn for one of Bauman's key concepts: the required moral neutrality of the small cog in the large bureaucratic machine -- Viz. "Without this moral discipline and self-denial, in the highest sense, the whole apparatus would fall to pieces" (Gerth/Mills 95). Bold not quoted by Bauman! Wow! Without this moral indifference, "the whole f****** apparatus would fall to pieces." Indeed!

Yes, everyone should read Bauman, especially if they are interested in bureaucratic theory (see link).

Bauman isn't interested in power, as say Foucault is. He wants to understand moral collapse, and genocide. He is somewhat interested in taken-for-grantedness, and social institutions, but not power.

If there is room, I wanted to post some Norbert Elias, whom Bauman uses, for Rachel:
More and more groups, and with them more and more individuals, tend to become dependent on each other for their security and the satisfaction of their needs in ways which, for the most part, surpass the comprehension of those involved.

It is as if first thousands, then millions, then more and more millions walked through this world with their hands and feet chained together by invisible ties. No one is in charge. No one stands outside. Some want it this way, others that. They fall upon each other and, vanquishing or defeated, still remain chained to each other.

No one can regulate the movements of the whole unless a great part of them are able to understand -- to see, as it were, from outside -- the whole patterns they form together. And they are not able to visualize themselves as part of these larger patterns because, being hemmed in and moved uncomprehendingly hither and thither in ways which none of them intended, they cannot help being preoccupied with the urgent, narrow and parochial problems which each of them has to face.

--- Norbert Elias, British Journal of Sociology, 1956.

(The original post is here.)

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