LM v Lou et al

Russell Grinker grinker at SPAMmweb.co.za
Thu Aug 26 08:45:08 MDT 1999

Louis Proyect wrote, quoting cyberpunk novelist Ken McLeod

>"And - let's not be economist, let's learn something from Gramsci - they'd
>have a place in a Left political journal, if they were integrated into a
>coherent political analysis which made sense of the strange things that are
>going on in the culture. Which they're not. >

Given the growing influence of the Proyectite school of falsification (OK
distortion), why not let LM speak for itself for a change?  Here's a bit of
a review by Mike Fitzpatrick of Frank Furedi's book, Culture of Fear, in LM
103.  I think it
sums up the coherence of the LM approach quite well.  Sorry it's a bit long.

- Russell

The strength of Frank Furedi's Culture of Fear is that it attempts to go
beyond descriptions of the contemporary moral crisis to provide a social and
historical answer to questions such as - why now? why in this form? and how
can we respond to it? Well known to readers of LM, Furedi focuses on current
preoccupations with risk - risks to health, risks to life, risks from
strangers, risks from family members, risks from the environment, risks to
the environment, risks at work, risk at home, risks of sporting and leisure
activities, risks from science and technology, risks, in short, in every
sphere of modern life. The very ubiquity of risk suggests that an
explanation of the phenomenon will not be found through examining any
particular risk, but rather by asking what is it makes people so responsive
to the promotion of risk awareness. Why are people so willing to imagine the
worst, so receptive to doomsday scenarios, so predisposed to panic?
The key to Furedi's explanation is 'the relentless process of individuation
that has occurred in recent decades in Western societies' (p66). As he
argues, this is only partly a result of the familiar trends towards greater
job insecurity. A more significant factor is the 'transformation of
institutions and relationships throughout society'. The decline of the old
organisations of the labour movement indicates the breakdown of traditional
working class solidarities, and parallel organisations in other sections of
society have also disintegrated.
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War at the close of
the 1980s proved a critical turning point, destroying both ideological and
organisational mechanisms of cohesion at international, national and local
level. Both left and right lost not only their historic justification, but
also their way of looking at the world and its future. Now the very notion
of social change, of 'solutions' to the problems of the world, was
discredited, people could only regard the future with apprehension. The
vision of changing things according to grand human designs has been replaced
by the acceptance of a much diminished role for human agency and an
acceptance of the limits imposed by the existing state of the world. The
growing awareness of risk and the associated clamour for caution and
restraint in all areas of life parallels the diminished role of human
The process of individuation unleashed by the combination of economic
dislocation and the weakening of social institutions is not, in itself,
Furedi acknowledges, a novel phenomenon. In the past, however, when old
institutions crumbled, they were replaced by new forms of solidarity: so
trade unions, co-operatives and other collective arrangements emerged in
response to the destructive impact of capitalist industrialisation. The
current preoccupation of politicians with the problems of 'community' and
with measures to create new networks reflects the weakness of new forms of
solidarity. As Furedi notes, 'self-help groups, helplines and counselling
are initiatives designed to compensate for the absence of more organic links
between individuals' (p67).
In the past the private domestic sphere of the family also provided some
respite from the corrosive individualism of the capitalist market-place. The
crisis of the family today is one of the most significant manifestations of
the process of individuation. Not only has family breakdown become
commonplace, but there is no longer any consensus about the conduct of
relationships within the family, between husbands and wives, and
particularly between parents and children. As a result, the family has
become more a focus of anxiety and insecurity than a source of support for
the individual and stability for society. As Furedi puts it, 'the family
home is no longer portrayed as a refuge, but as a jungle, where children are
at risk of abuse and where women are at risk of domestic violence' (p68).
The drive towards individuation has produced a unique sense of individual
insecurity and vulnerability - a sensibility that is highly responsive to
scares and panics. When established social roles and traditional modes of
behaviour can no longer be taken for granted, people feel that they are
losing control and develop a heightened awareness of dangers once accepted
as part of everyday life. In this climate of confusion and uncertainty,
people are receptive to the formulation of new guidelines and codes of
practice offered as a means of containing and regulating risk. Out of this
ferment, a new moral framework is emerging in which good and evil are
redefined in terms of health and safety, on the one hand, and risk and
danger, on the other.
... Furedi notes the emergence of a new moral climate in the sphere
of sexual relations. He argues further that 'the impact of these changes
goes way beyond the realm of sexuality' to discredit experimentation in any
form. His conclusion, that 'at least temporarily, the principle of caution
has triumphed over the pioneering spirit of adventure and discovery', both
exposes the fundamental flaw of the new morality, and suggests a line of
attack against those who would impose the inquisition experienced in one
parish in Salem three centuries ago on a global scale today.

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