Archive for August, 2010


Zero Defects

When you’ve been doing this as long as I have, you become weary of media frenzies which seem to summon a response from you, but when you think about how you might respond, you hold back because you don’t accept the terms and conditions for entry to the orgy. And anyway, even if you did accept the terms and conditions, how would you make an arresting entry? Answers on a postcard.

The Ground Zero Mosque is one such frenzy. If you’re plugged into the same sources of news and comment as me, you may feel the same urge to not just sit there, but to utter something. So let me talk about what might be behind the urge.

See the way I just said ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ there? Without feeling the need for further explanation, and you knew exactly what I was talking about? How does that work?

The first condition: what does ‘Ground Zero’ mean? ‘Ground Zero”s origin is as a term of military slang, used to describe the point of explosion of a bomb, one developed by atomic scientists who had been working to develop a weapons of mass destruction to be deployed by the State: in this case, and in this form, the United States of America.

It was used to refer to the point of explosion of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which immediately slaughtered hundreds of thousands of human beings.

That it is military slang is worth dwelling on. Military slang is a special type of slang.

Referring most likely to slang outside the military realm, Pierre Bourdieu sees slang, used by dominated groups, as in part the product of ‘a will to distinguish oneself vis-a-vis ordinary forms of expression’. He sees its use as ‘at the very least, directed as much against the ‘ordinary’ dominated individuals who submit to them, as against dominant individuals or, a fortiori, against domination as such’.

But in the explicitly hierarchical structure of a military organization, military slang -at least the sort of military slang of which ‘ground zero’ is an example- serves a different function. Used in a culture of pure obedience, it transcends hierarchy, and its function is to engender an esprit de corps, and to distinguish the members of that corps from other groups: the civilian population it is supposed to serve, the foreign population it is supposed to control, or the enemy it is supposed to kill.

So with the use of Ground Zero as the name for the site of the destruction of the World Trade Centre, and of the deaths of the thousands who worked there, military slang is universalised, and we talk about the world as though we saw it through a bombsight.

The effects? First, the effacement of any other ‘ground zero’ event. Neither preceding events of vast destruction, such as those of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nor subsequent events, such as those of Fallujah, can be located at a ‘ground zero’. The destruction of American lives, and of American buildings, is irrevocably elevated in importance above that of other lives and other buildings elsewhere.

Second, through its widespread usage, ‘Ground Zero’ introduces an explicitly martial character to the way in which people talk about the World Trade Centre site, it is the site of an act of war: when you say ‘Ground Zero’, you’re referring to an act of war against our side.

Third, it creates an starting point for a controlling narrative. In the years after September 11th 2001, it was common to hear people foregrounding the destruction of the twin towers in terms such as the ‘clear blue September morning’: in the story told, it all happened out of the blue. Whatever Osama Bin Laden had been up to before, whatever the United States government had been up to before: all this no longer matters, since, with Ground Zero, there is no before.

In sum, the use of ‘Ground Zero’ assumes the following: the events of September 11 2001 were worse than anything else, what happens to Americans is more important than what happens to anyone else, we are all at war, all part of the military effort, and we have always been at war since that fateful day, before which we remember very little.

I was planning on going on to talk about the effects of tethering together ‘Ground Zero’ and ‘Mosque’, as in ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ or ‘A Mosque at Ground Zero’, but I don’t have much time to do this in any detail. But let me point one thing out.

One of the criticisms levelled at ‘Islam’, which is to say, the image of Islam manufactured in the West, is that it, by contrast with Christianity, has not been the subject of a reformation. This criticism is, I think, preposterous, and is often advanced by people who have no difficulty in seeing the Saudis armed to the teeth for reasons of state. But it is a criticism. So I would like to apply the standards of that criticism to the country where the separation of Church and State is habitually exalted: the United States of America.

The head of state for that country recently declared that “Ground zero is, indeed, hallowed ground.” Many people with a penchant for cheering on America’s bombing campaigns and imperial adventures overseas do so based on America’s supposed embodiment of secular enlightenment values, in contrast to the barbarous spaces of the East and the South. And yet here you had its supposedly liberal, judicious President, a skilled rhetorician, saying that ‘Ground Zero’ is a holy place. Because hallowed means holy. As in ‘hallowed be thy name’. And if the head of state declares a particular site to be holy -are those who wish to venerate it, by maintaining it unblemished by other sacralised competitors, not simply defending the rituals of the state religion? For all the denunciations of the assembled protestors’ obvious bigotry and racism, they’re not the ones doing the bombing the Muslims of Afghanistan and Pakistan: they’re just the ones cheering it on.

If You Love Brian Cowen So Much… Why Don’t You Go Live There?

The Irish Times – Letters

Our Taoiseach has won serious respect internationally. We may not agree with some of his policies or actions. As our democratically elected leader, however, he is entitled, at least, to our respect.

Ah now.

What is democracy anyway? Is it something whose properties each citizen gets to decide on according to his or her own special interpretation? Maybe it is, and maybe every single word in the language is like a tennis ball pinged off each citizen’s head, acquiring a different spin, velocity and impact depending on the shape of that citizen’s head. What you are reading right now in these lines I write, depending on how you came to it, may be the instructions for how to land a Harrier Jump Jet or the final element required to unlock the secret code of the Bible. It’s all to play for.

My hermit-like existence, however, has forced me to stick quite unjustifiably to some relatively fixed meanings for a whole range of words, among which ‘democracy’ -along with milk, sugar, and vice grips- is but one. This may be scandalously anti-progress of me, but you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. In my troglodyte’s lexicon, democracy means rule by the people. And that means that the people confer certain other people, who are their equal, with power to do things on their behalf. So if democracy is rule by the people, and Brian Cowen is Taoiseach, this is because the people have decided that he is the one to do the job (outrageously, some clowns might cavil and kvetch at this immaculate syllogism). With democracy, therefore, it cannot be the case that Brian Cowen is entitled to the people’s respect as our leader, because for him to be respected simply on account of this would be tantamount to saying ‘this person, who is our equal, is not our equal’.

Now there was a woman on Liveline yesterday, and she said that the President was Ireland the nation in corporeal form. In some awful places, such delusional declarations would be enough to get you locked up on grounds of mental health. Fortunately, we live in a democracy in which the minister for mental health is also a publican, and such declarations are positively encouraged. My fear, and I am fairly confident that this is not a delusion, is that both the ideas that Brian Cowen deserves respect because why, he’s our leader goddammit and that Mary McAleese is Ireland would not be considered outrageous by a significant number among the population. This sort of thing, I fear, augurs badly for the future of my own pet meaning of the word ‘democracy’. Perhaps the moment will come when holding to that meaning so fastly will be analogous to holding to the meaning of ‘consumption’ as a disease when everyone else deems it to mean a vital concept in the description of objective economic processes.

Meeja Bored, Meeja Bored

Let me consider the meeja.

I post less than I used to here, mainly because I have less time; also, because my mental processes are disturbed by the constant interruptions of a Twitter feed; but also, because I am reconciling myself to the fact that there is not a great deal of intellectual satisfaction to be gained, either from pointing out or from reading about, the mephitic quality of certain media sources, which, if I recall right, is what a lot of the content on this blog previously entailed.

I don’t accept the current situation as regards newspaper and broadcast media as inevitable. Nor is it something up with which we must put. But I do think there’s a limited usefulness, for me, and perhaps for you, in me supplying critiques of this or that report, pointing out inconsistencies, ideological manipulation, stupidity and so on. (Thinking this through, there is, of course, a limited usefulness in nearly everything, even a Swiss Army knife, but forgive my imprecise turn of phrase)

So long as it is true that as broad swathes of the population swallow and adopt the view of the world transmitted via the likes of RTE, the Irish Times, the Irish Independent and so on, and so long as this world view enforces a sense of things as they are as the natural order of things, then of course it’s worthwhile for people to be prompted to think critically about these institutions and their function, the ideas they present as uncontroversial, and the importance of establishing and developing alternative forms of media communication.

But that is not what I’ve ever done here, in the moments when I have turned my attention to this or that article. Mostly, whatever I’ve written is just an immediate response to being lied to or bullshitted. I expect most of those who read this site -and I have no plans on expanding readership any time soon- are familiar by now with the view I might take on a particular article, even if they don’t share it. And, since I myself am already familiar with the view I might take, the whole exercise of producing responses to these media sources has lost much of its appeal.

For me it gets to the point where it seems to make sense to avoid reading newspapers altogether, at least those sections devoted to the delivery of ‘Opinion’ or ‘Analysis’. (Maybe some other day I’ll get round to the News and Business sections)

I’d like to go with my instinct on this and conclude that the impact of these sections, in the scheme of things, is very minor, and that whatever is being said, however twisted, obnoxious or batshit crazy, is well worth missing out on, and that, what is more, whatever expectations they confound are on account of dreams of a golden age of newspaper journalism in which you sat down at breakfast to read the (preferably ironed) paper, tapped open your boiled egg, and mulled over the wisdom of the columnist of the day, who, in the round, held opinions strikingly similar to your own, before turning to check on the latest news on those Rhodesian mining shares and tucking into the kipper.

But my instinct is probably wrong. The space devoted to ‘Opinion’ and ‘Analysis’, regardless of the content of the individual articles therein, sets the boundaries of what is considered serious and legitimate.

Let me give an example: the ‘Renewing The Republic’ series commissioned by the Irish Times, initially to great fanfare, but now, at least for this online reader, it is difficult to tell whether or not the series continues, even though the practice of commissioning boring, vaguely technocratic articles about how the country can move forward has not stopped.

The first thing to be said about ‘renewing the republic’ is that it presumes that ‘the republic’ is a thing worth having. Maybe it is: but is it the republic in the sense of an abstract idea of political association, or the Republic of Ireland in its concrete form? My fiver is on the latter, and if my wager is right, then what ‘renewing the republic’ was all about was recognising the dissonant effects of economic collapse on how people see the world, and then seeking to rehabilitate the system that facilitated the collapse had occurred in the first instance.

A more obvious name for ‘renewing the republic’ would, in different times, have been ‘rebuilding the republic’. But since the verb ‘to build’ was what caused much of the economic collapse in Ireland’s case, this would be inappropriate. It may also be inappropriate because the Progressive Democrats in the 1980s used campaign banners which proclaimed that they were ‘Building a New Republic’ (or was it Rebuilding the Republic? Check the RTE documentary for confirmation). Given that the Progressive Democrats provided much ideological ballast for the free-market frenzy of the 2000s from which the collapse ensued, one can see how ‘Rebuilding’ might pose problems for a decontaminated Progressive Democrat editor.

So, instead of rebuilding, we get renewing, which is not much like rebuilding but more like renovating, with lots of stuff about things should become the way they are, only more so. So the constitution should serve the citizens more, government should govern more effectively, business should find it easier to do business, regulators should regulate better, Young Scientists should be injected through the eyeballs with cognitive super serums, blah-di-blah.

What you don’t see, understandably enough, is an account of how to weaken the power of capital over labour. Instead, accounts of why Denis O’Brien ought to be praised for making profits from Haitians needing to use mobile phones to overcome the obstacles presented by a non-existent transport infrastructure, or why the entire education system should be geared to meet the labour supply needs of multinational corporations are easy enough to come by.

The point of all this being that focusing on individual articles of individual columnists does not seem to achieve a great deal: what I would like to read, though am in no position to offer it, is an account of the overall effects of the combined activities of this opinion-generating activity.

When you take an article by one columnist in isolation, or focus solely on what certain columnists are writing, you lose a sense of how what these writings fit into the overall scheme of how opinion is formed. A meticulous probing of what one columnist in particular has written may reveal boundless garbage, but in so far as the writing is revealed simply as the drooling effusions of crackpots, it presents an idea that it is the intellectual failings of these individuals that is the object of concern, rather than the institution that commissions them to deliver such claptrap with such regularity.

And focusing on the more wayward extremes obscures the fact that these eejits are but one component of a wider product. How, for instance, does what appears on the Opinion and Analysis sections relate to the ever-presence of Business sections, which represent capital accumulation as the only game in town, a just-so story?

Yet whatever their effect on the general readership, they probably have a lot of impact on elite groups in politics and industry. I have spoken to people in positions of relative influence who had been disturbed by opinions -of journalistic imbeciles, as it happens- expressed in the pages of the Irish Times and the Irish Independent, as though these pages were capable of inflicting grievous wounds. But maybe they are, and -what would be worse- maybe their contributors know this. Not knowing the score with certainty here is probably what stops me from reading the papers altogether.

Smiley and Benevolent Faces of Occupation

More than a couple of Irish Times readers I have met are familiar with The Skibbereen Eagle’s claim to be “keeping an eye on the Czar of Russia” and congratulate themselves at such bygone provincialism – a far remove from their own cosmopolitan omniscience. Freud called this condition ‘the narcissism of minor differences’.

Haiti’s election – The Irish Times – Tue, Aug 10, 2010

Government failure has compounded the lack of resources and outgoing president Rene Preval, barred by term limits from running again, is seen by many NGOs as part of the problem. His successor, and there is no front-runner among the five nominees, will be key to restoring frayed relations with the aid community and rebuilding a barely functioning state apparatus.

“I would like to tell President Barack Obama that the US has Obama and Haiti has Wyclef Jean,” the three-time Grammy winner told cheering supporters. Unlike Obama, however, the founder of the high-profile Yele Haiti charity which has to date raised $16 million for earthquake relief, has real problems conforming to the citizenship/residency requirement for office – he has been living in New Jersey for over 20 years. The electoral council still has to rule on the issue.

Some of his critics, like the banned party of deposed president Bertrand Aristide, see Jean as a stooge of the US, and among his sharpest critics is actor Sean Penn who runs a tent city for the homeless in Port-au-Prince. “He has been virtually silent, for those of us in Haiti he has been a non-presence,” Penn told CNN last Wednesday, pointing to allegations Jean misused funds donated to his charity. True to Haiti form, this is likely to be a no-holds-barred election campaign.

Yes, Haitian election campaigns in Haiti are a bit like wrestling bouts. What fun.

Wrestling bouts in which the people backing the losing side overthrow the government and unleash a reign of terror on the country.

If the Irish Times wanted to provide an informative leader about Haiti, it could have included the voice of another Haitian, apart from Wyclef Jean, and that other well-known Haitian public figure, Sean Penn.

Of both, and the roles they play, there is an excellent analysis on Ezili Dantò’s blog on Salon:

Sean Penn and Wyclef Jean: Hollywood, Hip Hop and Haiti – Ezili Danto – Open Salon

There are forces behind each of these people – Penn and Wyclef Jean, with political interests that may not be similar to what the masses in Haiti see for themselves. Forces perhaps that neither Penn nor Jean are fully aware of, and may not understand who pull the strings and manipulated them into both being stooges for empire.

For one, recall how, before the earthquake Wyclef Jean was a media darling and a US/UN/Clinton favorite in Haiti. He was Ambassador-at- Large with a security detail and VIP treatment at the airport. When the earthquake hit that favor was transferred to clueless, first-time-doing Haiti-charity-work, Sean Penn! Not the security detail, but his crew had access to the airport when regular Haitians and more veteran search and rescue and first responders were being denied; access to military logistics while Wyclef Jean’s crew had to come in through the Dominican Republic! At one point in the early days, when Wyclef Jean went to the airport with a crowd of Haitians to pick up the mounds of food, water, medicines that was just piling up there, he was denied, the crowd of eager-to-help Haiti youths who had followed him witnessed this treatment of Wyclef, embarrassed and shamed and force to leave empty handed.

Meanwhile Sean Penn’s star in Haiti was rising, in his safe compound on a golf resort area fully protected by the military. Nevermind that most Haitians in Kafou Fey and elsewhere outside this “green zone,” had no access to medicine, water, blood transfusions, no safety or that in general, and notwithstanding Sean Penn’s well run camp, many of the World Relief organizations and various other NGOS are, in the main, using aid monies for paying their high-end salaries, traveling, for shipping fees to their own companies, for attending meetings ad nausea, some buying prostitutes and living the high life in Haiti.

Now, there are some issues with how Wyclef Jean’s charity conducted its business in the past, but Ezili Dantò puts these into perspective.

World Vision, among other NGOs are leasing homes in the Haiti mountains of upper Petionville for from $6,000 to 12,000 per month paying for electricity and everything else plus renting huge SUVs from the Haitian Oligarchy. While the Haitian elite are taking this opportunity to leave Haiti and rent their plush homes for big money raised for earthquake victim relief. The new ROTATIONS from the World Relief organizations and the extra UN/US deployed personnel since the earthquake have comfortably replaced those flown out as the “new foreign elite moving in.”

All this is going on. But none of the top Haiti charity moneymakers’ tax returns were publicly exposed by the IRS or were dressed down by the media for their misuse of Haiti funds. NGO businesses like Red Cross, World Vision, Care International, Catholic Relief Services, UN world food programs, known charities that have been collecting on Haiti’s poverty and pillaging Haiti for decades after decades, none of them were dressed down for their misuse of dollars collected in Haiti. But soon after the earthquake, ONLY Wyclef Jean’s Yele foundation was singled out and uncovered to have IRS problems and a more than $410,000 questionable handling issue in his management of Yele Haiti foundation funds.

She continues:

Before the earthquake, these problems were not made public or cited anywhere that we know about. Wyclef was needed then to put a smiley Haitian face to US imperialism. But he’s being reigned in now and there is a reason. A black messiah who save earthquake victims, has Hollywood cache, a tent city, and who was not stopped from competing with Red Cross for donation dollars probably isn’t controllable enough for the US Kingmakers in Haiti. It’s no surprise to us at Ezili’s HLLN that today the actor Sean Penn, the new carefully cultivated Haiti “expert,” suddenly is the one ‘suspicious’ of Wyclef Jean’s bid for Haiti president and getting a huge mainstream platform to say so. Notice, in the USA Today article photo, Sean Penn is wearing his Haiti medal. He’s our new white expert on “all things Haitian!”

We’ve gone into cartoon land. The sideshow eclipses the living, breathing, suffering Haiti people enduring over 6-nightmarish years of US/US occupation and slaughters and NGO pillage never covered by the mainstream media. The election carnival is just beginning and has reduced, for the moment, the worst disaster in recorded human history to what actor Sean Penn has to say about hip hop rapper Wyclef Jean’s run to sit at the crumbled National Palace in Haiti! Elections under occupation? Neither are saying – krik, not a word, about that!

And, on what Penn is saying:

If Wyclef is going to be criticized on this because he’s hobnobbing with Wall Street corporate interests to the detriment, in Sean Penn’s opinion, of Haiti’s people and promoting the H.O.P.E. “sweatshop” legislations, then, how much more should Penn’s media firepower be aimed, on the actual POLICYMAKERS, the architects, who push sweatshop, by force, upon Haiti’s poor while fleecing the countries riches, behind UN guns?

The “corporate interests and individuals enamored with Wyclef” to quote Sean Penn, are, in our view, the very same folks Sean Penn hangs daily with for his organization’s works in Haiti. That is, those promoting and pursuing the failed wage slavery plan today, include: USAID, the Obama Adminstration at Hillary Clinton’s State Department, the UN’s Ban Ki Moon, Susan Rice, US Special Envoy Bill Clinton, the Haiti Oligarchy, the US Congress who passed the two H.O.P.E “sweatshop” legislations, along with mostly the entire Congressional Black Caucus as collaborators. Low-wage assembly plant duty free jobs are Washington’s vision for Haiti reconstruction. It’s been their vision and failed Haiti policy for over 30-years.

One might also note at this point, for the local interest angle, that local billionaire done good Denis O’Brien’s role alongside Bill Clinton at Davos was to tout for investment in textile sweatshops, and that GOAL, the charity of local charitymonger John O’Shea -who ‘called for a formal end to Haiti’s sovereignty and its
transformation into a US protectorate
‘ receives millions of Euro each year from USAID, which is its biggest state donor with the exception of Ireland, accounting for about one-seventh of total grant income in 2007. Let us wait to see which one endorses which messiah first. My money is on O’Brien endorsing Wyclef Jean, since Georges Sassine, sweatshop baron and president of the Haitian Industrialists Association (Association des Industries d’Haïti – ADIH), of which Digicel is a member, looks to be backing Wyclef:

Wyclef Jean to run for president of Haiti? Buzz growing – Poten & Partners

For others, he draws comparisons to former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide
— but only so far. Aristide, a priest-turned-president ousted in 2004,
enjoyed popular support but also fomented class hatred.

“I believe, like Aristide he will carry a groundswell because of his youth,
because of his success, because of the hope he represents,” said
Georges Sassine, a Haitian businessman and president of the Haitian
Industrialists Association. “But unlike Aristide, this is a man who
knows how things work, having lived in the United States. . . . Most
important, I do not detect any envy or hatred from him and this is most

Anyway, although the Irish Times ignores all this, if it wanted to say something about government failure, it could have mentioned the fact that Haiti presently has no functioning legislature.

It could have mentioned that Fanmi Lavalas, which is the country’s most popular political party, has been banned from taking part in the upcoming legislative elections by Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council (CEP).

A report by the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti reports that

The CEP’s exclusion of FL [for April 2009 Senate elections] was not justified under Haitian law. The CEP’s mandate does not give it authority to exclude legally recognized political parties, such as FL

and that subsequently:

the CEP effectively silenced Haiti’s largest political party that was critical of President Préval’s government. FL has won every election it has contested, including 90% of the seats in the 2000 parliamentary elections.

The consequences of this for the April 2009 elections were that:

Voters boycotted the election due to the exclusion of FL, resulting in a low voter turnout. The CEP claimed 11% voter participation, but virtually every
independent observer, including journalists and an unofficial election observer delegation, cited substantially lower percentages, with most estimating a turnout of less than 5%.

Then, in February 2010:

Again, FL complied with election requirements under Haitian law.6 President Aristide sent a mandate to the CEP authorizing an FL representative, Dr. Maryse Narcisse, to take all necessary actions to register the party. Dr. Narcisse complied with all legal requirements for registration. The authorization was faxed to the CEP on November 19, and the original letter was received November 23, enclosed with a certificate from a Haitian Notary certifying that President Aristide’s signature was valid. President Aristide confirmed on local Radio Solidarity on November 25 that he had given authority to FL representative Dr. Maryse Narcisse to register the party.

The CEP switched gears, abandoned its request for President Aristide’s original signature, and instead cited FL for failing to submit an original party authorization for the April 2009 elections. CEP President Gaillot Dorsainvil told local radio stations, “The Lavalas Family party will not be allowed to participate in the next election because the electoral council’s legal counsel said the party did not meet all legal requirements.”

How did the ‘international community’ respond to this? Despite ‘principled statements in favor of fair and inclusive elections’

when the CEP refused to correct the exclusion of FL, the international community, including the United States, abandoned the principles and provided generous support to the elections. International donors supplied Haiti with $12.5 million, or 72% of the election’s cost. All of the actors that had criticized the exclusion when it was made, praised the elections when they were held without the participation of FL or over 90% of Haitian voters. The international community again turned a blind eye when the CEP excluded FL in November 2009 and pledged $18 million for the February 2010 voting. By dropping their principled objections to the April election’s flaws and the November exclusion, the international community gave the CEP a green light to keep excluding the government’s political rivals. The international community missed valuable opportunities to pressure the Haitian government to be held accountable to the Haitian people.

Shades of Honduras coup laundry, though there are shades of what was done to Haiti in Honduras.

How this all escaped the attention of that eagle-eyed sentinel of democracy the Irish Times, whose dedication to detail meant it had no problem devoting space to denouncing sneering at Denis O’Brien for his bottom-billion corporate social responsibility rodomontades, I have no idea.

The Drink Talking

When I said a certain drinks firm had a history of producing alcoholics, I thought I was making a fairly uncontroversial factual statement, but it looks like I was wrong: it is controversial, or at least it is by Twitter standards.

So let me explain why that firm has a history of producing alcoholics, and why it ought not be controversial to say so. I am sorry for going to some length in doing so, but sometimes the most obvious things are the most tedious to explain.

Before I do so, let me say I don’t think it matters too much that this firm in particular has produced alcoholics: it is not that we could expect a company that produces alcoholic drinks, in so far as it does so in order to generate profit, to worry a whole lot about other things it produces, in so far as these do not generate a profit.

What seems to be arousing the controversy -perhaps controversy is too strong a word- is a rather narrow definition of the verb ‘to produce’.

According to this view of production, you can’t say the firm produces alcoholics because it can’t be proved that it ever consciously pursued a strategy to do so. Where is the documentary evidence of the boardroom meeting down the graveyard at midnight? Where are the Powerpoints with the customer segmentation graphs, with the purple blotchy pie slice labelled ‘alcoholics’?

‘Production’ applied in this sense only means producing those things that have been officially designated as its products.

But all industry produces things other than those things it eventually sells as commodities. An electricity plant may produce electricity, but it also produces pollution. A call centre may produce assistance in resolving billing queries, but it also produces irate customers and stressed employees.

And there is no reason to confine production to describe merely the activity of organised industry, or even of conscious subjects. Photosynthesis produces sugars, and yet in doing so, somehow fails to leave an e-mail trail showing who told it to do so. My little hen produces eggs for my tea, but not because it has been moved by my song inquiring as to when when when it might do so. It just produces eggs for my tea because that is what comes naturally.

It is in this broader sense of production, and not in the sense of an officially sanctioned activity within an organisation, that I assert the drinks firm produces alcoholics.

It might be claimed at this point that alcoholics produce themselves, by drinking alcohol, and that however a drinks company might direct its activities has frig all to do with it. So let me address this.

For a man to produce himself as an alcoholic, he needs to have a concept of what alcohol is. Equally important, he needs access to alcohol. This requires someone to put the idea of alcohol before him, and someone to produce the alcohol. If, through some Robinson Crusoe-style shenanigans, he discovers alcohol himself, and brews it himself, then drinks companies have not participated in the production of his alcoholism. Arthur and the rest are quite clearly off the hook.

On the other hand, if he is introduced to alcohol through a particular type of alcohol product in a particular setting, in which alcohol is easily accessible and the consumption of alcohol is broadly encouraged, in which drunkenness is considered normal, in which he is told that alcohol is in fact good for his health, and that it is even a fundamental element of his national existence, then we need to think about the roles of the drinks industry, and of particular firms within that industry, in producing his alcoholism. In these circumstances, it cannot be concluded at the outset that his alcoholism has not been produced by the drinks company. This does not mean that the man himself has had no role in producing himself as an alcoholic, just as a call centre worker may have participated in producing his own high blood pressure.

Now, all these elements -supply environment, pricing, social sanction, advertising and propaganda- determine the general level of consumption of alcohol in a given space. And in so far as any drinks producer influences any of these things in a way that broadens and raises alcohol consumption in the population, it also engages in the production of alcoholics. This is not to say that its primary, explicitly articulated objective is the production of alcoholics, any more than my little hen’s primary, explicitly articulated objective is the production of an egg for my tea.

I might add at this point that I have seen it said that production as an activity is a positive activity. I do not really know what this means. But I am guessing that it means that production, if it can be said to exist, only exists in terms of being geared toward the thing that has been posited as the product. So, following this, production for the drinks industry is just drinks. Even if we accept this view -and I do not, since a cow does not posit milk as its eventual product, and a ‘by-product’, even if it is never the main object to be produced, is still a product- it ought to be pointed out that the drinks industry does not merely produce drinks. It also produces the different components required to produce these drinks as a commodity, from basic ingredients through machinery through transportation, and so on. Not only that, but it seeks to produce things -advertising, pubs, packaging- that maximise, as far as possible, the optimal level of consumption of these drinks, thus maximising profitability. The goal of advertising is intended to attract more consumers, and to persuade existing consumers to continue to consume the product, preferably at higher levels. Another word for these consumers is drinkers. And the more drinkers you have, the more alcoholics you have.

I’m going on a bit, and rather than talk about the firm I mentioned previously, so far I’ve just talked about what production means, and what it means in the drinks industry, and the role of the drinks industry in producing alcoholics. And since I’m short for time, I’ll address the specific history of the firm I mentioned in another post tomorrow.

Masculine Domination

Martial Art

Amy Goodman

Anyone interested in journalism and media that does not serve corporate power should watch this.

Unsettling Economics

Those of you with an interest in non-Bord Snip economics might like to give this a listen.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

I on Twitter

August 2010