The Capitalist's Zombie
April 16, 2015 6:35 AM   Subscribe

Here’s a question: how can you tell whether a given charming little cafe with attractive hipster baristas, distressed furniture, and chalkboard menus is the real thing or a very carefully crafted fiction created by a giant corporation with a talented marketing staff?

A thought provoking post at ribbon farm which uses a zombie Chilean beer as a jumping off point for an examination of humanism, globalisation and authenticity in the modern world.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory (115 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
"I'm going to have an argument with imaginary versions of my opponents which I have created in my mind. Hey, would you look at that—I win!"
posted by enn at 6:41 AM on April 16, 2015 [24 favorites]


"LPT: pretend that anticapitalists are all humanist essentialists obsessed with authenticity because who's got time to read anything, amirite?"
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 6:46 AM on April 16, 2015 [7 favorites]


"You know the really important thing that people do is consume products of different types. Wait... Production? Work?? What are those things? Oh well, whatever they are they're not important enough to talk about. Want another beer?"
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 6:50 AM on April 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


Still, you've got to admire him for setting up a category of thinkers that consists of Islamic terrorists, communists, fascists, and UI designers.
posted by escabeche at 6:56 AM on April 16, 2015 [37 favorites]


I think the only interesting question here is how many Chilean beers did he drink before writing.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:58 AM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


He cares.
posted by amtho at 7:02 AM on April 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


He completely overlooks that part of the "authenticity" is actually an indicator that it's a local business. I may be willing to pay $1 for a coffee at 7-Eleven, and $2 at Starbucks, and even $3 to my local guy. I know the local guy is part of the community, the money's staying in the community, etc.

If 7-Eleven or Starbucks open a cute little cafe and charge $3, I'm right to be outraged that they're effectively defrauding me by making me think they're a little guy. They're also hurting the little guys by causing us to naturally be more suspicious of any (now so-called) local businesses.

It's much how we have to be suspicious of anything interesting on the Internet now, because it's as likely to be viral marketing as something genuine.
posted by explosion at 7:03 AM on April 16, 2015 [31 favorites]


Still, you've got to admire him for setting up a category of thinkers that consists of Islamic terrorists, communists, fascists, and UI designers.
Say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it's not slide-scrolling.
posted by fullerine at 7:05 AM on April 16, 2015 [63 favorites]


I don't know, how's the food? What are the prices like? Is the staff efficient and friendly?
posted by marxchivist at 7:11 AM on April 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


I think the pull quote actually presents a fairly interesting question, but I'm not sure it's a question I really want to read an economist's answer to. The issue is interesting to me, but I didn't find the article satisfied me much.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:16 AM on April 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


This man seems like quite an asshole, but the premise is at least interesting. Here's the decrufted version of his argument that he spends a few thousand words ambling towards,
My hypothesis here is that capitalism is an evolving computing system that gradually grows in sophistication to simulate more and more of the forms of culture and society, with increasing fidelity. If you’ll allow me out on a highly speculative limb for a bit, the size of the Keynesian deficit in an economy is a good measure of the simulation debt in a society: the amount of lost cultural ether we want to recover through sustainable economic simulation (and stimulation).

This evolutionary hypothesis applies to capitalism itself, which after all is just another element of culture. It is quite possible that developments in cryptocurrencies, trust mechanisms and automated contracting will make the entire visible scaffolding of economic life disappear entirely from view, creating a perfect simulation of pre-monetary human life.
He probably should have lead with that instead of prevaricating for four paragraphs before even introducing his point, but whatever.

To an extent it seems like a defense of what Carles has recently been sneeringly referring to as "contemporary conformity". ContempConform is an exploitation of this aesthetic: rough flannel patterns, beards, exposed brick, edison lightbulbs, chalkboard menus, etc. that serves to distinguish the life of the urban professional from the corporate, plastic, fake life of the suburbanite (or actual, real ruralite),
There is a contemporary conformist design aesthetic that has taken over all ‘trendy’ restaurants designed in the past ~5 years. The contemporary conformist design aesthetic is meant to provide a ‘welcoming’/’curated’ experience to those who want to ‘break free’ from the unnatural aesthetic of chain/branded experiences.

By accumulating ‘more experiences’ in contemporary conformist spaces, the contemporary conformist human believes that have experienced ‘something you can’t pay for’, even though you paid higher prices than you would have at a scaled international chain.
Of course it has Carles' trademark 'style' (that I'm sure most people here dismiss out of hand on principle), but his larger point is that the ContempConform is already living in the zombie capitalist space that the author of the FPP describes.

Regardless, both Carles' analysis and the dude in the FPP's analysis make me think of modern, gentrifying Baltimore. Complete with a devotion to a beer that's owned by a national conglomerate, and brewed in North Carolina, with the only connection to Baltimore being the large sign of the logo that hangs over Canton atop ridiculously priced office space and a yoga studio. Natty Boh, for all it represents of Baltimore home pride, is merely a logo on a building at this point.
posted by codacorolla at 7:20 AM on April 16, 2015 [15 favorites]


The Libertarian Police Department link is awesome.
posted by Renoroc at 7:20 AM on April 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


So a foreigner who has no knowledge of local culture and doesn't speak the language is tricked by marketing, and thats supposed to indicate, what? that actual locals are also tricked ? Dumb.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:22 AM on April 16, 2015


Does cultural ether exist?

you literally just made it up two paragraphs ago
posted by Greg Nog at 7:22 AM on April 16, 2015 [57 favorites]


I could forgive the hand-wavey "let's call this thing 'humanism' so I can argue against it" if it was to cut to some sort of chase. The article doesn't seem to say much, or develop potentially interesting thoughts.

I spent over half the essay thinking 'okay, I'll let that pass, the crux of the argument is going to be interesting even, or perhaps especially because, of it's weak foundations' to be left with a boring "If you can't tell the difference then it's the same."

In the third last para he states " If you’ll allow me out on a highly speculative limb for a bit"- mate I was happy to watch you clamber out on a limb but was expecting you to fly or fall given the effort.

(Also I think the term that best encapsulates what he chose to call "humanism" would be "romanticism".)
posted by Gratishades at 7:25 AM on April 16, 2015 [8 favorites]


He completely overlooks that part of the "authenticity" is actually an indicator that it's a local business. I may be willing to pay $1 for a coffee at 7-Eleven, and $2 at Starbucks, and even $3 to my local guy. I know the local guy is part of the community, the money's staying in the community, etc.

Would it disappoint you if the local guy took the $3 and bought himself a $1 coffee and 7-Eleven and a $2 coffee at Starbucks with it? The question sounds snarky, but I am sympathetic to your original point and not sure how I would feel about the second-level spending of the money.

Or suppose the local guy and the 7-Eleven both by their coffee beans from the same corporate food distributor and the 7-Eleven hires a clerk who lives in the neighborhood while the clerk in the local place is the owner's brother-in-law, who commutes in from New Jersey and takes his check home there to spend it?

It quickly seems that we don't have that much control over what happens to the money we spend. Is it worth it to worry about the small bit of control we have? I'm not sure.
posted by layceepee at 7:26 AM on April 16, 2015 [13 favorites]


So a foreigner who has no knowledge of local culture and doesn't speak the language is tricked by marketing, and thats supposed to indicate, what? that actual locals are also tricked ? Dumb.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:22 AM


The thing is locals enjoy "fake" local products all the time, with pride. Beer is a great example. Natty Boh is brewed in North Carolina and Georgia, but it's still popular in Baltimore/DC as a local beer. Kalik is the result of Heineken realizing there was a market with no local beer and creating one from scratch and it has something like 50% of the Bahamian beer market. I don't think anyone is being tricked and I happen to think both those products are authentically parts of local culture, in the sense that culture is what people actually do, no what we'd like them to do, but I can see the other side.

As I said, it is an interesting question, but I don't think the article does much with it.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:29 AM on April 16, 2015


It's kinda cute when your economist-types try to explain cultural phenomena; there's this sort of slapdash bandying about of poorly-understood and inadequately-redefined terms, arbitrary assigning of motivations, values and belief systems to largely fictitious straw man agent stereotypes, and massive hand-waving away of that which doesn't fit the brand new model you haven't spent any time actually interrogating.
posted by aspersioncast at 7:30 AM on April 16, 2015 [14 favorites]


Here are some fast food zombies showing up soon in a gentrified neighborhood near you:

US Taco Co. (Taco Bell prototype)
Super Chix (KFC concept)
The Corner (McDonald's McCafé rework)
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:34 AM on April 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


Also, what means this "steelman?"
posted by aspersioncast at 7:36 AM on April 16, 2015


"Sincerity -- If you can fake that, you've got it made." -- George Burns

how can you tell whether... -- Why would I give a damn? All I want is a cup of coffee. As long as it tastes good, why would I care who I buy it from?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:41 AM on April 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


this is what happens when your entire intellectual world-view is centered on reddit. it's like that peter watts book where "consciousness" is a fluke of evolution which all of humanity is moving on from, leaving a planet of jabbering automatons for whom speech is the end result of a problem-solving routine...

Does cultural ether exist?

Can you A/B test it?
posted by ennui.bz at 7:42 AM on April 16, 2015


Steelmanning is supposed to be the opposite of making a straw man argument - take an opponents position and put it in the strongest form you can.

I think it arose in the (argh) Rationalist community: link.
posted by pharm at 7:43 AM on April 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


(Original source of the term ‘steelmanning’.)
posted by pharm at 7:46 AM on April 16, 2015


Ah, gotcha. Thanks pharm.
posted by aspersioncast at 7:49 AM on April 16, 2015


Yeah, but what this guy is doing is asserting that he's steelmanning, but then presenting a version of "humanism" which is pretty flimsy and which fans of indie coffee shops wouldn't recognize as having anything to do with their views. I'm not sure what you call it when you say you're presenting the strongest version of the opposing argument, but are actually presenting a bad version, and claiming "this is as good as it gets" -- it's sort of strawmanning presented as steelmanning. Foilmanning?
posted by escabeche at 7:53 AM on April 16, 2015 [15 favorites]


The author seems mainly just to be 1) grouping all potential criteria of value that aren't easily accommodated under free-market fundamentalism into one bunch; then 2) defining this whole bunch as "ether", then 3) declaring this whole bunch of alternative criteria of value to be entirely fictional.

Am I missing something?
posted by oliverburkeman at 7:56 AM on April 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


Steelmanning is supposed to be the opposite of making a straw man argument - take an opponents position and put it in the strongest form you can.

I think it arose in the (argh) Rationalist community: link.


bingo.

there's this very distinctive style of intellectual wordidea-salad common to inbred intellectual groups like maoist cults, pomo critical theorists, salafi jihadists, and UI/UX engineers internet libertarians.
posted by ennui.bz at 7:56 AM on April 16, 2015 [8 favorites]


There is a point in here, that capitalism will morph itself into a form most pleasing to aesthetics of people. There was an article about kickstarter a while back on here. Basically that kickstarter was a sop to liberals who accepted its more personalized capitalism to actual revolution.

To put it in more Marxist terms, what happens when capitalism gets really good at at providing facsimiles of the relationships that are normally prevented because of the alienation of labor? That is the author's clumsily described cultural ether. He thinks the alienation doesn't exist, or if it does, the facsimile will be a reasonable substitute. Of course everyone else would just call this false consciousness.
posted by zabuni at 7:57 AM on April 16, 2015 [24 favorites]


Can we unverb "steelmanning" for purposes of Metafilter?
posted by graymouser at 7:58 AM on April 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


it's sort of strawmanning presented as steelmanning. Foilmanning?

i think it's a basic mode of "mansplaining."
posted by ennui.bz at 7:58 AM on April 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


i think it's a basic mode of "mansplaining."

I harken back to the classics here. I think "bullshitting" works just fine.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:02 AM on April 16, 2015 [13 favorites]


i think it's a basic mode of "mansplaining."

I harken back to the classics here. I think "bullshitting" works just fine.


well, this is something very distinct because it involves someone who thinks they understand your ideas better than you do, but is too big of a narcissist to understand anything at all, much less listen to what someone else is actually saying....
posted by ennui.bz at 8:07 AM on April 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Is mansplaining beanplating bullshitting? Or am I trolling a strawman?
posted by Devonian at 8:09 AM on April 16, 2015 [9 favorites]


strawzombieing? steelzombieing?
posted by johnnydummkopf at 8:10 AM on April 16, 2015


Maybe you get tipped off because Балтика is also the name of the biggest brewery in Russia?
posted by scose at 8:10 AM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


To put it in more Marxist terms, what happens when capitalism gets really good at at providing facsimiles of the relationships that are normally prevented because of the alienation of labor?

People can have their cake and eat it too?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:13 AM on April 16, 2015


Steelmanning
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:15 AM on April 16, 2015


something something...Bill Hicks...something...anti-marketing marketing...grumble grumble.
posted by vitabellosi at 8:17 AM on April 16, 2015


Anything that still seems mysterious simply hasn’t been sufficiently well-simulated by economic mechanisms yet.

You know, I thought I had lost my capacity to be horrified by other people's naked viewpoints, but dang, man. He sounds like a villain in a children's chapter book.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:21 AM on April 16, 2015 [10 favorites]


But in response to the essay's point, to the extent it has one, "cultural ether" seems to be covering too broad of a spectrum of concepts and as such he is able to poke at different points and be bound to hit something with each jab. I mean, all it is really saying is that there is cachet attached to things that do not appear to be mass-produced, and that as a result corporations are producing things that don't appear to be mass-produced. It's not really a question of "markets learn," because markets don't learn; Budweiser still sells shit-tons more beer than the fake-authentic Chilean beer. Rather, it's a question of capitalist strategists finding new ways to exploit niche markets by imitating certain qualities that appeal to people.

The whole idea that this is markets adapting to be "good enough" for every case is, itself, deserving of ridicule, because Budweiser is still so much more popular than pseudo-Chilean beer. Big manufacturing is just recapturing a small market segment that had gone toward small, boutique-style products because of the perceived lack of quality of the mass-produced version.

To put it a different way: the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor is always going to be a greater thing than the one in Las Vegas (even if the Post Office put the latter on a stamp once). That's not illusory "cultural ether," it's the failure of simulation in the long run.
posted by graymouser at 8:23 AM on April 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


He sounds like a villain in a children's chapter book.

Guy and the Society of the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Spectacle
posted by RogerB at 8:28 AM on April 16, 2015 [17 favorites]


This article about selling coolness discusses the same thing, but from a a more comprehensive standpoint, I think. Or maybe just with less jargon.
posted by johnnydummkopf at 8:31 AM on April 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


He's writing this in Chile, Chile.
The only way he could be more ignorant would require a reference to September 11th*

*2001.
posted by fullerine at 8:40 AM on April 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Here’s a question: how can you tell whether a given charming little cafe with attractive hipster baristas, distressed furniture, and chalkboard menus is the real thing or a very carefully crafted fiction created by a giant corporation with a talented marketing staff?

When I lived in the US, there were two coffee shops a couple of doors from each other.

The first fits this description to a tee -- and was very popular with socially minded people I knew. The second was a regional (national?) chain, Au Bon Pain, with clone stores all over.

But in a city which was at least 50% African American, and much more than 50% in the residential area next to the two stores, the first store had only hired white workers (whether planning to or not), and the second store, that capitalist chain, had a majority African American staff, including managers. Which store was really part of the community?

I actually preferred the coffee from the chain, and the baked goods were excellent.
posted by jb at 8:48 AM on April 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


1) yeah seriously the Chilean angle and his obliviousness to it is hilarious. I'm like do you even Cybersyn, bro?
2) there is a point in here, that capitalism will morph itself into a form most pleasing to aesthetics of people who can muster effective demand. The rest of you can go hang.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:54 AM on April 16, 2015


Fake it til you make it all fake.
posted by jamjam at 8:56 AM on April 16, 2015 [7 favorites]


People can have their cake and eat it too?

To put it a different way: the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor is always going to be a greater thing than the one in Las Vegas (even if the Post Office put the latter on a stamp once). That's not illusory "cultural ether," it's the failure of simulation in the long run.

Most people who are against capitalism think that the facsimile will never be as good as the real thing, or that it will have fatal flaws that doom it in the long run. To put it simply, the cake is a lie.

Myself, I think that alienation of man from civilization is intrinsic to his very nature and can only be transcended fleetingly, regardless of the economical or political landscape. But I wouldn't mind being convinced otherwise

posted by zabuni at 8:56 AM on April 16, 2015


Working from what appears to be the crux of the argument, such as it is:
My hypothesis here is that capitalism is an evolving computing system that gradually grows in sophistication to simulate more and more of the forms of culture and society…
The "lolwut" part of this was the seeming premise that capitalism exists outside of culture and society. That doesn't make much sense, at least not in contemporary America where capitalism is pervasive.

If you want to have an authenticity argument that's fine—I think they're pretty goddamn tedious at this point, but whatever—but those "authentic" cultural artifacts, unless perhaps (and I would argue, even if) they were appropriated from other non-capitalist cultures, can't be said to exist outside capitalism in any real way.

I hope it doesn't come as too much of a shock to him, but the guy or gal running the cute independent coffee shop or operating the one-man taco truck or whatever, probably isn't doing it as a hobby; those places exist, in the form that they do, because they are economically viable that way. A huge amount of the "authentic" form are in fact adaptations to the capitalist environment in which those places exist and must survive. (E.g. chalkboard menus? They're cheap, and allow you to change the menu without reprinting signage or reprinting paper menus. They existed for a reason that had little to do with being cute before they became merely an aesthetic choice.)

It doesn't make a lot of sense to say that "capitalism…simulate[s] more and more of the forms of culture" when the forms were produced by capitalist processes in the first place. There's something interesting going on there, a certain tension between small-scale entrepreneurial innovation and large-scale national corporate clone armies, but it's not between "capitalism" and "culture". It's between capitalism as practiced on the small scale and on the large scale.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:04 AM on April 16, 2015 [16 favorites]


When I travel, I tend to make a sort of game of spotting what I think of as "fake local" restaurants/bars/quick serve type places.

There are a few common trends that can tip you off:

1) The lighting is too good. Chains/Franchises tend to have evenly lit spaces, with tasteful spot lighting aimed at the "We sponsor this local kids team" wall.
2) The branding is consistent throught-out. No generic fountain drink cups or napkins here.
3) Staff uniforms. Not just a t-shirt with the location name on it, but a planned uniform, often with matching belt.
4) For bars, does it have a theme that it pushes hard, but that thing is a little generic?
5) Someone's name + food not from around here: Luigi's Authentic Pizza in Oklahoma or Mario's Taco Heaven in Minnesota.
6) Finally, there's the 'bought from a catalog feel'. You know how when you go into a staged house, everything is just too coordinated, like someone went down to Crate & Barrel and bought one of everything? Same feeling.
posted by madajb at 9:14 AM on April 16, 2015 [16 favorites]


Is 'Friedmanning' a thing? Because looking back, his introductory example is like those in a lot of the maligned Tom Friedman op-eds, in that on closer inspection it not only doesn't apply to the discussion, but is also based on a complete misapprehension on the part of the author. In this case, for example, the author "fumbling with my near-non-existent Spanish . . . ended up with a sixpack of something called Baltica Dry."

Now, even if he or his Italian friend managed to convey what they meant by 'local beer,' there's no actual evidence in the text (or otherwise, AFAICT) that anyone in Chile is actually marketing this as a local beer, or believes it to be one. His assertion that the beer "does not really appear to be “local” in any sense other than the brand name" is more absurd since the beer is clearly labeled in Spanish, English, and German, making it obvious to anyone but this guy that it's probably not local, and in addition, as pointed out above, the brand name is not local. It's not even trying to look artisanal.

So an entire essay is built up around one man's inability to make contextual inferences.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:22 AM on April 16, 2015 [9 favorites]


But as a directionally correct approximation of idea that simulation fidelity increases over time, with capitalist’s zombies becoming increasingly indistinguishable from non-market competitors putatively full of cultural ether, it is very useful.

This is interesting, because I've found in my travels that local restaurants often mimic corporate chains just as often.
Many times I've been to local restaurants that seem almost designed from the get-go to be franchised.
Like the long-term plan for Luigi's Taco Pizzeria is not to make pizza, but to be the Jimmy Johns of Taco Pizza.

This is especially prevalent in BBQ places and burger joints.
posted by madajb at 9:22 AM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


To put it in more Marxist terms, what happens when capitalism gets really good at at providing facsimiles of the relationships that are normally prevented because of the alienation of labor? That is the author's clumsily described cultural ether. He thinks the alienation doesn't exist, or if it does, the facsimile will be a reasonable substitute. Of course everyone else would just call this false consciousness.

I didn't read all of it because the author was so all over the place, but it seemed like he was touching on things that have been extensively discussed by the Situationists or somewhat explained by things like semiotics, the hyperreal, reification, etc. he just tried to force that square peg into the round hole of his economic terms.
posted by bradbane at 9:23 AM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


That Irish Pub down on the corner in any of 50 countries is likely to be a product of the Irish Pub Company

There's a county map to go on the wall
A hurting stick & a shinty ball
The bric, the brac, the craic & all
We'll call it an Irish pub
Caffrey's, Harp, Kilkenny on tap
The Guiness pie & cabbage crap
The ideal wannabe Paddy trap
We'll call it an Irish pub

posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:31 AM on April 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


Hurling stick
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:40 AM on April 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Thinking about it more: the "cultural ether" that the author is talking about exists in any relationship that is not a commodity or mediated by commodities (i.e. money). People have relationships to things that are not purely monetary and as commodities. The Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor has a lot of meaning to people; that is a relationship, as much as its nominal value in copper and reconstruction costs if it were obliterated. The fake Statue of Liberty in Las Vegas doesn't have that relationship; it only has value as a symbolic reminder of the real relationship that the real Statue of Liberty has.

You can't simply reduce the world to masses of commodities, because things have relationships that are not mediated by capital. The US would never sell the Statue of Liberty – it isn't a commodity, its existence and ownership are not mediated by money. And if these economists say that these relationships are only invented by humans, well, so is the commodity relationship, from a Marxist perspective.
posted by graymouser at 9:48 AM on April 16, 2015


Is 'Friedmanning' a thing? […] it not only doesn't apply to the discussion, but is also based on a complete misapprehension on the part of the author

Perfectly put, yeah. It resembles what I think of as the Trend-Piece Fallacy, saying "we" when you really mean "I," but it's an even stronger form of narcissism — not just wildly overgeneralizing from personal experience, but overgeneralizing from something in your personal experience that also (1) you're obviously wrong about and (2) isn't actually germane to the subject.
posted by RogerB at 9:52 AM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


I couldn't help but feel like this was the sort of tirade a Tarantino character would reel off. So I read this to myself entirely in Tarantino's voice, and mentally added "fuck" or "fucking" as often as possible. It was surprisingly entertaining.

I'm totally with the guy on the fake authenticity thing though. It's bad, except when it isn't, and often it becomes the truth we are after rather than the falsity that spawned it. So is it bad? I dunno. Enough beanplating. Crack another beer and decide later, I guess.
posted by caution live frogs at 9:54 AM on April 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


how can you tell whether a given charming little cafe with attractive hipster baristas, distressed furniture, and chalkboard menus is the real thing or a very carefully crafted fiction created by a giant corporation

It's pretty easy to tell if you work in one of them. Amazingly some people are still involved in the production process, but you never hear their opinions on anything until they start rioting when they can't afford to eat any more.
posted by colie at 9:56 AM on April 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


if they let the staff program their own music, and the music's actually good ... I don't really care who the overlords are, the better angels are winning regardless.
posted by philip-random at 10:04 AM on April 16, 2015


To put it in more Marxist terms, what happens when capitalism gets really good at at providing facsimiles of the relationships that are normally prevented because of the alienation of labor?

My theory is that there are limits to this -- the facsimiles show themselves at the edges where you have to care as much about what you're doing for reasons *other* than money as you do about money.

he just tried to force that square peg into the round hole of his economic terms.

I'd say this is just the bias that most of us have (analyzing things through the intellectual tools that we've focused on developing)... but economics itself often enough seems to reach out from markets/finance to try to claim the social sciences or even the human experience in general that I think there's something extra weird about it.
posted by weston at 10:22 AM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Does cultural ether exist?

you literally just made it up two paragraphs ago
Which makes it even funnier when he later says: Those who don’t buy the idea of cultural ether at all (and I am in that group)

So he's part of a group of people who don't believe in the thing he just made up and in which no one believes.
posted by shmegegge at 10:32 AM on April 16, 2015 [11 favorites]


I find it ironic that this article has no byline.
posted by Ratio at 10:40 AM on April 16, 2015


Further on the "Friedmanning" question, if you look at Rao's reading list you'll notice it's about 80% pop-science and econo-bollocks with a sprinkling of Fukuyama. The guy apparently has (or at least his LinkedIn claims) a Ph.D. in something, which I honestly find a little hard to believe (and I'm just going to assume CS or engineering), because his writing really has all the earmarks of someone who doesn't think there is a higher, more serious form of social theory than the op-eds and TED talks that he likes to consume.
posted by RogerB at 10:47 AM on April 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Chilean here:

1) Báltica is just a beer. It's for sale at places that sell beer. You can drink it. It doesn't have any specific local or foreign cachet. Other beers for sale do: Cristal for local, Heineken for foreign, for example.

2) It sucks. For an argument based on flimsy assumptions and strawmen, they could have at least picked a better beer as a starting point.
posted by signal at 11:02 AM on April 16, 2015 [5 favorites]



Cultural ether . . .

Báltica is just a beer. . . . It sucks. . . .

Is 'Friedmanning' a thing?



The Beer Is Flat
 
posted by Herodios at 11:07 AM on April 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


dude this guy is trying to sell books on how to make management decisions, i would basically assume that his "words" can be replaced with emojis and trombone noises and we can go look at other people with educations/experience write about simulacra and "authenticity"
posted by beefetish at 11:07 AM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


fucking cultural ether im dying over here like i want to trap this man in a cardboard zeppelin and watch him try to write a management fad book about it
posted by beefetish at 11:08 AM on April 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


My theory is that there are limits to this -- the facsimiles show themselves at the edges where you have to care as much about what you're doing for reasons *other* than money as you do about money.

Alternatively, maybe the important isn't whether or not the facsimiles resemble some authentic original or whether or not the simulacra are precessing smoothly or whatever. Maybe the important thing is how this shit gets made, and whether or not anyone's been put through a totally pointless hell making it.

In his model, there's black-boxed systems that produce consumer goods, some "authentic," some "capitalist," (what?), and the "capitalist" goods will tend over time to resemble the authentic ones, so it's all for the best, and looking inside the box is not just unnecessary but actually, to him, inconceivable. Basically he's discussing the quality and authenticity and relative satisfaction granted by all the consumer goods in Omelas without sparing a second's thought for that damn kid in the basement who makes it all possible.

Also, good lord, what fool holds up "authentic" small businesses as non-exploitative? At least in my experience, small business owners, more than most people, tend to be completely venal motherfuckers who appear to actually take pleasure in screwing over the people with the misfortune to be under their thumbs.

This guy's article is legit beneath metafilter's dignity, I think. Wrong stacked on top of dumb and buried in uncurious smugness.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:10 AM on April 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


Funny he would choose beer in the first place.

I was with some friends at a restaurant and some newish Northern Mexico oom-pah music with brass instruments came on. One person said "That sounds like German music" to which I said "Yeah, that's the influence of a lot of immigrants from Germany a hundred or so years ago" to which a couple people were sort of shocked. (OK I'm coming across as a smarty-pants here sorry).

Anyway, Mexican or Chilean beer is just German style lager that started being manufactured in Mexico/Chile because a bunch of German ex-pats wanted it. Likely took a huge investment to ship over the ingredients and machinery to make it all. It must have been a weird, exotic seeming novelty to old folks who had grown up in Mexico at the time. It caught on, as lots of people tried it and liked it. Now it's "Mexican beer"... Corona, Dos Equis, Modelo, etc.

Is ANY Mexican beer "authentic" then? Was it authentic 5 years after German lager was made in Mexico? 10 years? 80?

Now our culture is dominated by multinational corporations. It's still culture, it's just different. It'll be a different story someday.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 11:13 AM on April 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


ALSO... this is just a step down the sometimes fun stoner dorm room rabbit-hole of "Is the thought about a unicorn a real thought?" or "You know we've all just CONVINCED each other that today is 'Thursday', and we all just believe it and live our lives around it because we are SHEEP, man!"
posted by jeff-o-matic at 11:20 AM on April 16, 2015


Is ANY Mexican beer "authentic" then?

Can brown men play the brews?
 
posted by Herodios at 11:21 AM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm kind of confused by some of the discussion here. People who believe that Macs are somehow artsier and less corporate than Windows PCs are not unicorns; they are real people expressing the exact sentiment described with relentless conviction. People who stopped drinking Goose Island when they got bought out or dismiss Sam Adams for being too big to make good beer anymore did so sincerely, due to a perception that the brands had lost something as they scaled up. I've seen people compliment a scaled Lavazza cappuccino at the end of a meal in a local wine bar.

I think the notion of the soul is actually a pretty good analogy – something totally ineffable that people unanalytically ascribe to things as it suits their feelings. Denying the existence of this notion, this feeling – whatever the quality of the piece – is just weird to me. To me, a lot of the comments are obfuscating the actual structure of the debate to make some comment about ... well, I can't tell what, really. To pile-on that corporate stuff is actually bad, and can never be good, because it will never have a soul?

I still buy my wine, beer, and coffee locally when I can, wherever I happen to be, because local, small-scale production is usually more idiosyncratic, you know? This thing is unique to this place, and I'll have something that isn't what I'm having now when I'm somewhere else. I don't like Yellow Tail or Bud or Starbucks, and I have the confidence to state my opinion plainly: they are bad, or not very good in the best case. But I'm under no illusion that the local stuff carries any special character that would evaporate under other economic conditions.

I think that's what the article is really getting at: scale doesn't matter, because what people want is (a minimum of) quality, coupled with a facade of authenticity. People are ascribing a soul to products when no product has a soul, and the most "soulless" of products (to people who believe in that stuff) are exploiting their craving for soulful authenticity. The fact the the authentic thing is equally as capitalist as the corporate thing is irrelevant to the consumer; the artifacts of small-scale capitalism become signifiers and products in themselves. The snake has eaten its own tail out in the real world, but that doesn't matter, because the snake was always in our heads to begin with.

Apple is no less corporate and more soulful than Microsoft, because corporateness is immeasurable and meaningless and soulfulness is immeasurable and nonexistent. Anheuser-Busch owes a bunch of breweries that continue to make pretty much the same product they always have. Most people don't care what their coffee tastes like, but they prefer a comfy couch to a metal chair and usually prefer fast service to either.

I'm not sure what the point of all the denialism is. Products that people will pay for make money, and if part of the product is an experience, does it really matter where the experience comes from? Well, yes, lots of people care, and these people are real, but their reasoning borders on mystical; "cultural ether" is real to a lot of people, even if they don't call it that. What's gained by sweeping that under the rug?
posted by WCWedin at 11:28 AM on April 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


Say what you will, my Maoist cult serves the people a damn fine cup of coffee.


Great Teacher, Great Leader, Great Commander, Great Helmsman, Great Espresso
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:29 AM on April 16, 2015 [7 favorites]


It's a shame the essay is a rambling parade of straw men, because the topic itself is actually pretty interesting.

Cultural ether (or, aura, as I'd call it), is worth thinking about. While it has no material value in itself, it's an effective signifier for quite a few things people really do care about. Concern for both employees and the local economy have been discussed already. While it's by no means guaranteed that the employees of local small businesses are treated better than the employees of massive chains, or that their money stays local, it's usually a pretty good starting assumption. But, the diversity of the consumer experience is also important.

The reason microbreweries are better isn't that large scale production can't make good beer, and it isn't because there's some ineffable aura of the authentic that changes the perception of the consumer. (Not entirely, at least.) The reason microbreweries are better is that there are far *more* of them, and their business model can succeed by targeting very small niche markets. Most microbrews aren't very good, but among the thousands of varieties that exist, there are dozens that suit any taste. The reason a chain simulacra of a local business is sure to disappoint is because there aren't enough different ones. There can't be, without reducing the whole enterprise to something indistinguishable from financing actual small businesses.

But, there does seem to be a real tendency to elevate authenticity from a rule of thumb for finding qualities we care about to a quality worth pursing for its own sake. People buy local beer, but they also buy artisan local vodka. That's interesting, and worth thinking about.

Also, using the word "capitalism" to mean "extremely large, geographically distributed firms" is silly even by the standards of the rest of the essay. To imagine that local business owners - and, for that matter, street vendors, farm stands, and panhandlers - aren't themselves engaged in the process of evoking and crafting the symbols of authenticity is silly. The difference is that they're capable of pulling it off.
posted by eotvos at 11:39 AM on April 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


I think that's what the article is really getting at: scale doesn't matter, because what people want is (a minimum of) quality, coupled with a facade of authenticity.

Well but so anyway he's couching his insights, such as they are, about fetishy consumerism in a frame that explicitly presents fetishy consumerism by those who can afford it as anticapitalist -- which is just dumb as hell and misses every possible point -- and then arguing that because large-scale capitalist enterprises can produce good fetishy commodities, capitalism is therefore alright. In your attempt to save this article, you've picked up one detail of his argument (the idea that large-scale production of goods that can satisfy even the most discerning consumer is possible), and willfully overlooking why he's talking about that detail.

I mean, I'm a lazy man, a lazy, lazy man, and even I can tell this guy has never worked a day in his life.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:44 AM on April 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


Funny he would choose beer in the first place.

He lives in Seattle, so it's the obligatory go-to example of the "buy local" ideology. No joke, the fixation on local beer as an economic paradigm case is one of the easiest ways to distinguish the Northwestern regional flavor from the main body of the Californian Ideology.
posted by RogerB at 11:49 AM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think that's what the article is really getting at: scale doesn't matter, because what people want is (a minimum of) quality, coupled with a facade of authenticity.

It's really easy to make fun of the people who say "I love Italian food! Olive Garden is the best!"
posted by Slothrup at 11:50 AM on April 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


If you still feel tricked, it means there's room in the market for a product where you won't feel tricked.
posted by Obscure Reference at 11:50 AM on April 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


Would it disappoint you if the local guy took the $3 and bought himself a $1 coffee and 7-Eleven and a $2 coffee at Starbucks with it? The question sounds snarky, but I am sympathetic to your original point and not sure how I would feel about the second-level spending of the money.

That's not how profits work. Whether you buy $3 local coffee, $2 Starbucks, or $1 coffee at 7-Eleven, most of that money goes to wages for the barista, rent & utilities & taxes for the building, and buying coffee, cups, milk, and sugar. Whatever is left over goes to the owners. For Starbucks and 7-11, that gets reinvested in the company or given as a dividend to shareholders.

So yeah, if the local owner wants to take the profits earned from me and buy a cup of coffee at the 7-Eleven next door, some of which will pay local wages/rent/utilities/taxes/etc, that's better for the local economy than if I'd bought coffee from 7-Eleven and had all the profits on my purchases go out of town to the shareholders.
posted by straight at 11:50 AM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


i want to trap this man in a cardboard zeppelin and watch him try to write a management fad book about it

Who Creased My Zeppelin?
posted by escabeche at 11:59 AM on April 16, 2015 [7 favorites]


Where he went wrong, off into this cultural ether nonsense, is he didn't ask himself why he bought a six-pack of Baltica Dry instead of, say, Heineken.

There's a bunch of possible reasons, but the most likely is that he was visiting Chile and wanted to see, do, and drink stuff in Chile that he couldn't do at home. Maybe he was pining for Authentic Cultural Ether, but he probably just wanted to try something new.

But if it turns out that Baltica Dry is just re-branded Budweiser, he's going to be disappointed. Not because it fails to contain some Ineffable Cultural Ether, but simply because he's had Budweiser before and there's no point in traveling all the way to Chile just to drink Budweiser.

The same is true for wanting to eat at a locally-owned restaurant. Some people are motivated by trying to keep more of their money in the local economy. But other people are just hoping for some food that wasn't microwaved from a Sysco package.

Sure, some big company could make a chain of fake local cafes that could fool you. The problem is not whether it's going to set off our inner Inauthenticity Detection Alarms. The problem is when you go to another cafe in the chain of fakes and it's the same damn thing as everywhere else.
posted by straight at 12:20 PM on April 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


Alternatively, maybe the important isn't whether or not the facsimiles resemble some authentic original or whether or not the simulacra are precessing smoothly or whatever. Maybe the important thing is how this shit gets made, and whether or not anyone's been put through a totally pointless hell making it.

In his model, there's black-boxed systems that produce consumer goods, some "authentic," some "capitalist," (what?), and the "capitalist" goods will tend over time to resemble the authentic ones, so it's all for the best, and looking inside the box is not just unnecessary but actually, to him, inconceivable. Basically he's discussing the quality and authenticity and relative satisfaction granted by all the consumer goods in Omelas without sparing a second's thought for that damn kid in the basement who makes it all possible.
YCTaB, your comments have been really interesting. Would it be fair to sum you up as saying the following: that even if capitalism did tend to succeed (as Rao thinks it does) at producing products that are "authentic" enough for even the most discerning consumers, that would not mean that capitalism is just fine. And that is because, no matter how authentic a place like Starbucks or Disney World is from a consumer's point of view, for the workers there is no attempt at all to ameliorate the fact that working at a place like that is alienating and oppressive. Having to put on 10 Pieces of Flair to keep your job is exactly the opposite of actual personal expression, and this is still true (even if/especially because) all the customers were fooled.

So the true critique of capitalism is not that the products suck, it's that the products are often quite good, but look at what it does to the workers. Fair summary?

The thing is, he does make the distinction between those two possible critiques, and makes it clear that this essay is about the second one. Which, you know, is allowed. So are you just basically wishing the essay was about something else? Here's what he says near the top:
Critiques of capitalism tend to be of two sorts. One kind of criticism lends itself to empirically based debates. For example, the critique that capitalism creates compounding patterns of oppression and hidden environmental damage. The debates in this bucket are well-posed and data-rich.

...If you’re like me, you conclude on the basis of watching such debates, that capitalism is the worst possible system of economic organization except for all the others. If you’re not like me, you conclude that capitalism is impossibly evil and embark on a quixotic quest to come up with a non-communist, non-fascist, non-theocratic alternative that all can agree on and won’t produce revolutions, bubbles and busts. Best of luck with that.

But there is a second kind of more interesting critique of capitalism that does not lend itself to well-posed empirical debates and is therefore out of scope for the wonk-lords of the UWMWF...
And then he goes on to the actual topic. So I think he is aware of your critique, just has a different opinion about it, and is not making it the central point of this particular essay. I don't think it's fair to say he's just missing the "real point" out of stupidity.
posted by officer_fred at 12:32 PM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Nah, gonna double down. His dismissal of the "first type" of critique of capitalism is bog-standard "There Is No Alternative"ism, which is a surreal thing to find in an article purportedly about an experience he had in Chile, of all places, and his "second type" of critique of capitalism, loosely stated the idea that large-scale production can't make appropriately satisfying fetish items, isn't even a critique of capitalism, it's just a type of socially inept middlebrow snobbery. The fact that he describes/disguises his critique of middlebrow consumer preferences (eat local! I found the cutest little cafe it's so authentic! Drink local beer just like the natives! posted from my iPhone!) as a critique of a critique of capitalism is beyond lame.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:43 PM on April 16, 2015 [10 favorites]


"Steel(y)danning"
posted by Existential Dread at 12:58 PM on April 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


In your attempt to save this article, you've picked up one detail of his argument (the idea that large-scale production of goods that can satisfy even the most discerning consumer is possible), and willfully overlooking why he's talking about that detail.

I was responding more to the narrative that was developing in the comments that because the conclusion is dumb, the premise ought to be attacked. There's a whole lot of dramatic head-scratching going on over "cultural ether" when it's pretty plain what that means. I don't love the article particularly – it's all kinds of clumsy and silted and tired – but I don't think the author is entirely wrong.

So while we're on the subject, isn't there a vein of anticapitalism in the local movement? It's not always explicit, and it's certainly naive, but it's a common sentiment. He conflates capitalism with corporatism, but isn't that an accurate reflection of the authenticist (if you'll forgive my abuse of language) position? Maybe it's ludicrous to expect the average consumer to know what they want and articulate it precisely, but that doesn't make the notions of locality and authenticity any less ethereal.
posted by WCWedin at 1:01 PM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


He conflates capitalism with corporatism, but isn't that an accurate reflection of the authenticist (if you'll forgive my abuse of language) position? Maybe it's ludicrous to expect the average consumer to know what they want and articulate it precisely, but that doesn't make the notions of locality and authenticity any less ethereal.

I would say that I have absolutely heard localism advocated for in capitalist (earning a return on inputs) terms, so no, I don't really think they're that conflatable.
posted by PMdixon at 1:08 PM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Most people don't care what their coffee tastes like

WUT.
posted by aspersioncast at 1:11 PM on April 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yes, there's certainly a strain of anticorporatism to localism, but in my experience most eat-local stuff is liberal, or even straightforwardly conservative, rather than anticapitalist. Conflating anticorporatism with anticapitalism is sloppy; liberal anticorporatists are fine with market rule, they just want smaller-scale market rulers. if you're looking for actual anticapitalism in the localist tradition you have to look at significantly more radical tendencies (back-to-the-landers? Radical anarchist communalists?) instead of to the well-off, pro-capitalism liberals who invest in the consumption of local authenticity as a means of class expression.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:12 PM on April 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


They funny thing with this argument of authenticity in products, is that capitalism is what is causing the need for the abstraction of the artisan/small batch/handmade product fetish. It is only when large scale business tries to market with the same by-product that you crave by reaction that you as the consumer call foul.

The better question to ask yourself is why do you desire the abstraction over the essence/use of the product?

Is beer refreshing, a social tool, or a means to drunkenness? Or is the beer some experience you couldn't possibly engage with because both you and the experience are the product?
posted by Divest_Abstraction at 1:13 PM on April 16, 2015


Is beer refreshing, a social tool, or a means to drunkenness? Or is the beer some experience you couldn't possibly engage with because both you and the experience are the product?

All of the above?
posted by aspersioncast at 1:20 PM on April 16, 2015


So authenticity, however it's discussed, however nonsensical it may or may not be, should be maintained as a useful proxy for anti-corporate spending, because large-scale commerce distributes gains away from the local community? And any attempt by remote producers to deceive the consumer into thinking that they're spending locally is immoral? I think that's where this is going, and I can't argue with that, not exactly.

But if authenticity is either the end game of multinational capitalism or a well-meaning but oh-so-subvertable means of class expression... Well, do either of those scenarios really make a good case for the preservation of soul, authenticity, cultural ether, or whatever you want to call it? I mean, is it a thing that's actual worth pursuing? Sure, you can't stop people from complimenting the emperor's clothes, but behind closed doors, isn't it okay to admit that something seems a little off? Or, to take it a little further, if the conclusion is that authenticity will be replaced over time with remotely-produced pseudo-authenticity and most people won't notice or care, what exactly am I supposed to be mourning?

I guess what I'm asking is, is the position I'm butting up against here an explicitly anti-corporate one? I genuinely can't parse it out. The thing is, bad as the article is, I can see a through-line: If what we want is local and authentic, a remote corporate entity will fake it, and we will buy it and like, and nothing dramatically bad will happen. I don't think that's a crazy argument, but the last step is pretty speculative, so maybe that's what people are reacting to. I really don't know.
posted by WCWedin at 1:47 PM on April 16, 2015


It's really easy to make fun of the people who say "I love Italian food! Olive Garden is the best!"

Like my grandfather, whose first name was Giovanni, who spent over half a decade in Italy as a child, married a Sicilian woman, ate food with gravy probably more days than not, spoke fluent Italian, and when given a choice of restaurants in southern New Jersey, still wanted to go to Olive Garden? Just saying.
posted by graymouser at 1:52 PM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


So authenticity, however it's discussed, however nonsensical it may or may not be, should be maintained as a useful proxy for anti-corporate spending, because large-scale commerce distributes gains away from the local community? And any attempt by remote producers to deceive the consumer into thinking that they're spending locally is immoral? I think that's where this is going, and I can't argue with that, not exactly.

You can try to maintain authentic authenticity as a gold standard / useful proxy for ensuring that your consumption is less corporatist or not, but you will be stuck in an arms race with people with deeper pockets and a bigger cultural arsenal than you could ever dream of having.

The thing is, bad as the article is, I can see a through-line: If what we want is local and authentic, a remote corporate entity will fake it, and we will buy it and like, and nothing dramatically bad will happen.

See, now you're getting somewhere. The thing that you need to analyze now is what that word "we" means in this context. I argue that "we," here, means people who are well off enough to make significant choices about what they consume, and whose identities are wrapped up in what and how they consume, and who therefore are valid targets for middlebrow marketing campaigns that privilege consuming the idea of authenticity as a means of self-actualization, or as a way to signal relative wealth, or as a comfortable, easy placebo for meaningful political activity, or whatever. IMO these people are more or less totally irrelevant; they'll be relatively fine, and totally useless, no matter what.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:01 PM on April 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


I mean, yes, if you want high grade authentically authentic authenticity, whatever that is, you're a sucker if you think you can buy and consume it off the market. And this blowhard declared from the start that his steelmantrap of a mind has discovered that TINA to the market, so, yeah, good luck.

and, yes, authenticity is at its core a gibberish term, so this whole discussion is utterly pointless from soup to nuts. I'm just peeved that this guy saw fit to pretend that he was somehow making an argument against anticapitalism in his critique of middlebrow consumption habits.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:10 PM on April 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


Steelmanning is supposed to be the opposite of making a straw man argument - take an opponents position and put it in the strongest form you can.

It's a great concept to keep in mind when you make an argument. But never, ever claim out loud that's what you're doing. At best you come across as condescending, "Allow me to present the opposing point of view more strongly than its proponents usually do."

At worst, you do what this guy did. You fail to make the opposing argument well and you look like a fool, charging headfirst into what he thinks is a locked, steel door, and taking a comical pratfall bursting through what was only a straw facade after all.
posted by straight at 2:20 PM on April 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Say what you will about localism: as a new lawyer in a small town, buying certain supplies from a local store rather than giant chain got me talking to the delivery guy/owner about maybe drawing up a new will for him, because he definitely needs one, and we had a good generic chat when he came in. And I know through other sources that he gives a bunch of money to charities anonymously, and you'd better fucking believe I respect that enough to keep my own business needs with him.

It's that weird hybrid that comes up in more decision-making situations the more I look. I'm wanting to support local people because keeping the money in the local economy actively helps the rest of the local community, because you know them and can make a personal judgment on whether to trust them, and because it will come back and help you. Altruistic, neutral, and mercenary, all at the same time.
posted by Lemurrhea at 3:16 PM on April 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


At worst, you do what this guy did. You fail to make the opposing argument well and you look like a fool, charging headfirst into what he thinks is a locked, steel door, and taking a comical pratfall bursting through what was only a straw facade after all.

" ... Buddy, I'm not sure what you thought would happen, charging headfirst at a locked, steel door like that."
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 3:26 PM on April 16, 2015


Lemurrhea: that's a really good point and I love the hell out of that story. The local "authentic" or whatever here isn't a good being sold, not exactly, instead it's the actual relationship with another breathing human being who you can do helpful things for and who can do helpful things for you. Of course it has to be mediated in part through market terms (you sell me stuff, we talk about things, I realize I like you, I sell you stuff, we introduce each other to our networks), and of course people without skills or things to sell don't have quite the same access to the process as you do, and of course it's all a little bit tainted by being mandatory. But even in a world governed by market relations, some lucky people get to build real connections anyway - and these relations are less about what you have or what you eat and more about what you can do for each other.

This is the thing that bothers me the most about TINAism; alternatives to pure market behavior are all around us already, and if we were all stuck dealing with each other via pure market behavior everything would fall apart quick. This is one reason why smart corporations internally run on command economies of one sort or another, governed through/moderated by personal relationships, and why when Randians and other market ideologues get their hands on a company and attempt to establish internal markets, the company collapses.

Typically if you're stuck always dealing with people on market terms it means that for whatever reason you've been excluded from the networks of not-strictly-market relationships that actually keep the show running.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:44 PM on April 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


Look, I buy local stuff and microbrews.

But only a person with very little imagination and a GREATLY inflated notion of his existence within time could deny that:

International corporations and the stuff they make IS THE CURRENT, DOMINANT CULTURE ON THE PLANET, and by extension, most human culture on the planet, at this particular time.

You or I can sniff and say, well this local brewer is better, therefore it's LEGITIMATE culture, but the truth is all of us monkeys are trapped on this one planet in a year we call 2015, and international, global corporations comprise A HUGE PART OF OUR CULTURE, and that is AUTHENTIC culture.

Some time in the future, that will not be the case. Just like Modelo beer was not part of local culture in Mexico 400 years ago. PERSPECTIVES, people, please.

Sheesh.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 6:27 PM on April 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


One last rant. Put it this way. 2000 years from now, archaeologists will dig up our plastic remains, and the evidence will lead them to say "2015 was a time when the human race was quickly becoming more and more a global culture, where localized traditions spread across the planet via a system they called capitalism. Huge corporations made versions of localized goods and sold them commercially, sometimes squeezing out the products and traditions they were originally emulating. This went on until... [fill in what happens next]"

Will the future archeologists think "well, the localized cultures, mom and pop stores, microbreweries, etc., were the REAL authentic culture of the times, where the enormous dominant sweeping trend that bonded nearly the entire planet was merely a simulation of culture"

???

OF COURSE NOT. WE ARE WHAT WE IS. You don't have to like it, but there it is.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 6:33 PM on April 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


OF COURSE NOT. WE ARE WHAT WE IS. You don't have to like it, but there it is.

Your hypothetical archeologists sound astoundingly bad at their job.
posted by codacorolla at 7:28 PM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


What? How so? As a society, this is how we function. You do not have to like it, but that's how our society currently functions.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 7:46 PM on April 16, 2015


I mean we aspire to be other things, but if a previously unknown volcano went off and buried my apartment in ash, they wouldn't find my aspirations. They'd find my iPad.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:50 PM on April 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


" I aspire to worship the chill-out moon goddess. The same Godess we've been digging on for the last 100 years. But these guys keep grabbing us and cutting our hearts out and tossing our corpses down the sides of the pyramids... They're just a bunch of yuppies trying to gentrify the 'hood"


."
posted by jeff-o-matic at 9:20 PM on April 16, 2015


The "lolwut" part of this was the seeming premise that capitalism exists outside of culture and society.

It's a perfectly valid observation. Do you really believe that the guy in a suit who decides to open a chain of faux-distressed brick pourover cafes exists inside coffee culture and society? He's completely outside it, utterly foreign to it, and knows fuck all about it beyond obvious external appearances and what marketing consultants tell him, but he looks in, and he sees arbitrage.

He doesn't want to be a part of it because culture, or because society. He just wants money.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 10:17 PM on April 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's a perfectly valid observation. Do you really believe that the guy in a suit who decides to open a chain of faux-distressed brick pourover cafes exists inside coffee culture and society?

He's a human being who provides coffee to people, definitely knows things about coffee (you can scoff at those things being "what marketing consultants tell him," but people opening up corporate coffee shops know a thing or two about coffee), hell he probably drinks coffee himself. There's no reason to think he's "outside coffee culture," a term so broad that it encompasses him, the people who work at your local independent coffee shop, the old guys sitting at McDonald's and reading the newspaper, and me, even though I drink coffee twice a month at most.

Culture is what people do, not just what you do, not just what the approved "authentic" people do. Starbucks is part of coffee culture, McDonald's is part of food culture; they can be parts of the culture you have no interest in, but that doesn't make them alien.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:49 AM on April 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


It is quite possible that developments in cryptocurrencies, trust mechanisms and automated contracting will make the entire visible scaffolding of economic life disappear entirely from view, creating a perfect simulation of pre-monetary human life.

The Utopia Algorithm!
One person who’s spotted the beneficial potential of Ethereum is Jessi Baker. She was working on her computer science PhD in supply chain data when she heard about block chains and Ethereum, back in 2013. She took a break to found Provenance to offer what she calls ‘block chain-powered product histories’. The idea is simple: give people a way to see how the things they buy are made. Provenance, a small team based in north London armed with angel investment, plans to use Ethereum to make opaque supply chains transparent.

Imagine you want to buy a diamond, but not of the blood variety. With Provenance your freshly mined rock would be given a unique digital ‘tag’ (a very long number) which is put in the Ethereum block chain. Each stage of the production process would then be recorded under that tag in the block chain record — it could be a certificate, a photograph, a piece of text, a contract — in chronological order, with each new addition verified by someone at the next stage of the process. By the time it reaches your finger mounted on a gold ring, you also get a record of the diamond’s entire life. Far better than a flimsy certificate or a fair trade stamp — both of which could be added to this block chain anyway — this is a mathematically perfect, immutable record for the ages. Provenance is starting small with a dozen or so of what Jessi calls ‘good suppliers’ who want to demonstrate to customers how their products are made and workers are treated, including a fashion retailer whose supply chain spans the globe. But who knows where next? If the frozen food company Findus had used Provenance, we’d have known exactly where, or what, that lasagna meat had come from. Palm oil? Supermarket produce? Perhaps even refugees?

It’s difficult to predict where this will all end up: the evolution of the net is immune to forecast. The early 2000s saw several similar efforts at peer-to-peer software which never quite took off. But the combination of new technology and public demand make this a step-change in the internet’s endless evolution. Vinay thinks the big social media companies will feel the pressure, because someone will set up a social networking site on Ethereum that doesn’t collect your data, perfect for privacy-conscious users. Then there’s all the online marketplaces. When you buy something on eBay or Airbnb, a cut goes to the company for facilitating the transaction. A handful of programmers are planning to build an online marketplace on Ethereum where buyers and sellers can connect without a third party and their commission. Vinay also has estate agents in his sights. With Ethereum, you could create an immutable record of your house deeds, and then simply transfer them over to a buyer using encryption verification. As someone who’s dealt with their Kafkaesque administrative costs, I find this idea hugely satisfying.
presumably sensors+data+code can be a more 'authentic' way to intermediate -- organizationally complex? -- relations rather than thru 'the market' or gov't bureaucracy :P never mind that ethereum would (presumably!) be embedded in a market economy -- using some kind of price system -- governed by political institutions (while simultaneously augmenting them?)

anyway i guess i'm thinking of (cute little) cafes/shops that use square/stripe or whatever as payment systems or amazon/ebay marketplacess -- essentially small(er) businesses run on huge platforms allowing 'long tail' economies of scale and customization -- which if they collect enough data can transmute itself into a form of 'money' that describes a certain set of social relations that one may or may not consider 'authentic' (depending on how it's used i guess? like for personal enrichment or mutual benefit ;)
posted by kliuless at 11:34 AM on April 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


Culture is what people do, not just what you do, not just what the approved "authentic" people do.

Totally. We're all devo!

What strikes me, though, is the author's apparent belief in late capitalism as transcendent force of nature rather than just the sum of the behaviors and interactions and cultural norms that comprises it. That seems just is silly and idolatrous as authenticity-worship.

He's also convinced that the haters are on the way out, to be replaced by people like him, which seems like wishful thinking. I tend to assume authenticity fetishism is just inverted commodity fetishism, and that both spring from and feed back into the continuum of chaotic, exuberant, fallible human behavior that we've chosen to call capitalism.
posted by ducky l'orange at 2:06 PM on April 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


There's no reason to think he's "outside coffee culture," a term so broad that it encompasses him, the people who work at your local independent coffee shop, the old guys sitting at McDonald's and reading the newspaper, and me, even though I drink coffee twice a month at most.

That's a pretty disingenuous definition of 'coffee culture' - 'everybody who ever drinks any kind of coffee, everywhere' - and it's clearly not what's being talked about in the article, which is referring to appropriating the trappings of a very narrow segment of coffee culture that has a very obvious aesthetic for commercial purposes.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:05 AM on April 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


I mean, seriously, if you're happy to go conflating McDonalds with 'food culture', and thus deny that there are in fact many, many clearly distinguished food cultures, why not just say 'everything is just stuff we all do' and then there is no culture, or at best just one culture? That's ridiculous.

Culture is what people do

No, a culture is what some people do.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:08 AM on April 18, 2015


I mean, seriously, if you're happy to go conflating McDonalds with 'food culture', and thus deny that there are in fact many, many clearly distinguished food cultures, why not just say 'everything is just stuff we all do' and then there is no culture, or at best just one culture?

Wasn't that the basic gist of The Lexus And The Olive Tree?
posted by acb at 6:15 AM on April 18, 2015


Sure, culture is what some people do, but there's no logical principle behind putting corporate coffee outside the realm of coffee culture beyond snobbery. People drink corporate coffee, it is influential in the way people who drink coffee expect coffee to taste and the way they expect the coffee drinking experience to be. The only reason you want to exclude it is because you don't like it, which isn't a good enough reason, sorry.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 2:33 PM on April 18, 2015


Fingers twitch, trying to dial 1-800-I-FEEL-OK on the nearest touch-tone phone.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 3:08 PM on April 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


The schtick of identifying some optimizing process, postulating its "sufficiently" optimized iteration, and arguing about that is a trick I normally associate with transhumanists, though probably that's just because transhumanists are really loud on the internet. It seems to be uncommonly effective at getting otherwise critical minded people to accept really strange premises.
posted by LogicalDash at 8:16 PM on April 18, 2015


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