Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Bust to the Baby Boom 2

The popular part of the Baby Bust's ideology works fairly well told in Marxian terms: after the austerity of the Great Depression, and the Second World War, pent up demand created a wave of babies, this demographic bulges objective realities – they outnumbered their parents; atomization of labor for the required mobility meant that they were in nuclear families; there were competing demands on capital, and these previous facts meant they were Lord of the Flies style left to misraise themselves; mass production and mass broadcast became their form of social mediation and social proof – led to rather clear response in the creation of a "generational consciousness" which replaced class consciousness. For the boomers, one's age was the defining feature of ones opportunities and circle of friends, challenges and outlook.

This story is a gross oversimplification, it has been told often, and while it is close enough for understanding two important parts of Boomerite ideology, it does not tell the other half of the story, namely the intellectual aridity of the previous age. New ideas, other than exploitation of semi-conductor technology, have been almost non-existent.

This intellectual story does not fit in Marxian objective realities of production, part of the problem being that Marxism and its spin offs is only half a theory: objective realities work to create consciousness, and that consciousness is the response to pre-existing distribution of wealth and capital, and thus how class conflict plays out. All well and good, but it is missing a theory of psychology, and all economic theories are scaled up theories of psychology.

This is why in the late 20th century a myriad of hybrids of Marxism sprung up, many of which were attempts to combine Marxism, with Freudianism. This impulse is not generated by class consciousness, or generational consciousness, but by historical consciousness: where people think they are in the historical structure. The boomerite ideology is as the janitor generation for a series of synthetic – indeed synthesistic and even syncretic movements, in the arts, in the sciences, and in the humanities. Once one grasps that Syncretism, with a capital "S" is the historical consciousness, one which won among a competing series of ideas, not because of objective consciousness, but because it was the historical consciousness, then the second, that is the elite, strand of the boomerite problem becomes visible.

Syncretic thinking is the response to the Modern period's legacy: where there was war, there had to be peace, where there had been fiat, there had to be consensus; where there was siloed theories, there had to be unity. There had been syncretic movements in the Modern, in cubism, in Dada, in various aspects of literature, and previous syncretic ages, my own study is of Petrarch, and the syncretic nature of his "Scattered Rimes," the collection of hist Italian poems, as well as the 1500's with its syncretic approach to knowledge and myth – e.g. occultism, and poems such as Orlando Furioso. There have been others, for example the mid-Bronze age after the first Bronze dark ages was host to several: the Babylonian synthesis of the Sumero-Akkadian, the Vedic tradition in India, the Middle Kingdom in Egypt, the Hebrew tradition, the early Ionic tradition which leads to Hesiod and Homer. Key signs of syncreticism are hybrid names: Pallas Athena, for example which is a merger of two different goddesses, and shifts away from an original creator sky god to some other God – for example the shift in the pantheon in the middle east to Marduk.

The first wave of the syncretic takes overt pleasure in "mash up" and "bash up" cross over of myth, like that great middle modern syncretic exercise, the superhero comic, where techno marvels, e.g. Iron Man, are next to Norse Gods, e.g. Thor. However once this is done, the next wave looks for a way to unify the competing pieces, and make them look whole. There are many sources for the Greek Pantheon, sources that are still largely visible in Hesiod, but by the time of Greek Tragedy, these sources are being blended together. There is still a need for "deus ex machina" – literally "the god out of the machine," where some higher power is invoked to sort everything out. This is a second wave syncretic exercise, but it is headed to full synthetic. Plato, wants synthesis, where the joints between near eastern despotic gods of nature as it is, have been merged into logic idealist gods, of nature as man imagines it in the utopian. Plato points out, perhaps somewhat in jest, that the Iliad purged of bad gods, is an ode, not an epic.

The synthetic paradigms of the post-war era are many: in physics, the relativistic Standard Model, in economics the neo-classical synthesis, in sociology Marxo-Freudianism, in biology the neo-Darwinian synthesis of mendelvian genetics and Darwinian selection. The necessity of taking very disparate underlying theories, and fusing them, went first by syncretic thinking, and then a search for full synthesis. Many of these theoretical frameworks were extremely successful, for example the Standard Model and General Relativity are the most precisely predictive ideas ever created. Marxo-Freudianism is virtually a religion complete with iconography, without which there simply is no understanding modern cinema and much of modern literature.

The Baby Boom inherited, then, a historical consciousness of their role as the ones who would bring full smooth synthesis to syncretic hybrid theories, prove that there could be "one ring to rule them all," or "a theory of everything. The Baby Boom became the neo- era, neo-classical, neo-liberal, neo-conservative – even a film grasped that to be the arch-neo was the holy grail in The Matrix and its sequels. The Baby Boom was destined to be either a janitor generation, or the root of one of the "Grand Bargains" of intellectual history: make each theory budge enough to make both fit.

Such grand fusions in the past include the medieval synthesis of Mediterranean antiquities (Roman, Greek, Hebrew), the Roman synthesis of Greek and Hebrew thought, the Christian gospel fusion of Jewish and Greek mysticism, the hellenistic synthesis, the renaissance synthesis of Antiquity and post-medieval Catholicism. This last word "catholic" is rooted in universalism. The end of synthetic thought, is catholic, small "c," thought.

Thus the boom at once was disabled, and challenged: challenged to create an envisioned catholic universalism, and disabled, because the real synthetic problem is between the reality of a popular social consciousness, and an elite historical one. These are incommensurable.

So the second part of the preconditions of the boomerite problem is that consensus leads to the necessity of creating synthesis, where none of the parties must give up their preconditioned values or ideologies, leading to an attempt to form a catholic field theory of society and nature. This is the elite consciousness of the age. And this part of the story ends with an exclamation point: the Janitor Generation project of a simple "elegant" solution to synthetic problems has failed, across the boards. Before the boom even came of intellectual age, they were already condemned to a generation of intellectual labor which would go nowhere.

More of the Krugman Follies

Mea culpa.

Yeah and Americans were slow to grasp that perhaps the stories of WMD in Iraq were perhaps a tad overblown. Since if the economic problem is more "skills shortage" than "opportunity shortage" it is fixable by relatively easy means, it was an easy narrative to fall into, despite the small problem that it was totally wrong. Now that the crisis has passed and nothing can be done Krugman and Bernstein – another reliable idiot – are starting to admit, it is structural and it is based on the flow of money up to the top.

The most reliably good move for a liberal pundit, is to be a useful idiot for some reactionary idea.

(h/t Matt Stoller)