Sunday, 27 September 2015

Macro-Level Trends – Social Trend Drivers – Critical Theory (Part 2)

Part 1 of this weblog previously described how increasingly vocalised and so visible social trends have become almost enigmatically integrated with the process of consumerism. This from everyday items such as a daily branded coffee through to aspects of conspicuous consumption, with the examples of 1980s Benetton adverts, 1990s 'Fur is Murder' T-shirts, 2000s Starbucks Coffee and 2010s idiom of 'Fair Trade' supermarket goods. Others have obviously since followed.

It was also explained that since such post-modern “philosophical determinates” have become increasingly engrained in FMCG and broader retail consumer culture, so likewise – although more remote in terms of product proposition and brand identity - the auto-sector would be wise to better appreciate the increasingly philosophical nature of purchase and usage: beyond the obvious mass-consciousness focus on reduced ecological damage and greater use of recycled and recyclable components, and the immediate business-bound limitations of traditional marketing research (products, brand and users).

Instead, to solidify (as practicable) the often very nebulous 'skunk-work' efforts which take place in a very ad hoc manner by questioning minds within design and marketing departments.

To this end, whether undertaken in an official capacity as part of an ongoing or periodic 'scenario planning' process, or more narrowly but deeply by internal 'forecaster' (as per the likes of BT), it would serve auto-makers to grow their field of understanding and vision, and not fall into the immediate trap of believing that uni-directional 'eco-planning' of products and processes, and associated 'eco-branding' regards mass market advertising, is enough.

To do so means an effort to listen and see as to what has gone, and what is going on, beyond the “goldfish bowl” of the sector and its immediate corporate and sector issues and the increasingly temporary created reality of heavily media propelled contemporary consumer culture.

[NB the very recent scandal around VW Group's emissions test 'defeat device', within the ECU software design of over 11,000,000 vehicles, with the possibility of other car-makers using similar tactics, will presently obviously absorb executives and senior management, Yet additional focus on such less immediately tangible social trends when feasible could rebalance any overt customer focus on ecological issues. Essentially, whilst eco remains vitally important, perhaps “a greater number of eggs in greater number of (consumer) baskets”.]

The obvious goal is to see the bigger societal picture, even as it increasingly fragments with new and evolved old social tribes associated belief systems and behaviour patterns.

There was mention of the likes of Slavoj Zizek, and the need for corporations to appreciate his mode of inter-connected societal thinking, even if as capitalistic entities, hardly endeared to his neo-Marxist self-description. The fact is that the social sciences in academic circles have been massively influential to the media since the 1920s and more so since likes of 1960s Satre and 1980s Baudrillard.

The subject 'Critical Theory' then has invariably affected the more recent development of western nations during their information-led development. Hence, more than a cursory interest by the largest companies (auto-makers obviously amongst them) is increasingly necessary so as to understand what broad context is driving the short, medium and long term futures.

To this end the remainder of the poignant topics encompassed by 'Critical Theory's' listed in an uncurated A-Z manner follows:

'Longue Durée' – the French expression for (obviously) 'long duration', proferred by the 'Annalis' school of the mid C20th, and focuses upon the slow processes of historical change that are almost imperceptible to individuals living through time periods. Relative to economic theory it relates to the availability and pricing of commodities, shifts in demographics and trade cycles and latterly that of climate change (pros and cons). Central is the 'seriality' of measured and quantified trends. The history of 'mentalities' also places emphasis on the underlying structural dimensions, such an the type of epoch / era (eg Feudalism vs Industrialisation vs Information-Age).

[NB Intentionally overtly long in scale and specific in targeted measurement, 'longue duree' appears too immense and far to a generalised theorem to be of use to the corporate world. Yet understanding contexts, especially radically shifted economic times, as seen historically and seen since 2008, does indeed provide backdrop understanding. Albeit with the understanding that since the C19th massive expansion of money markets, the discontinuation of the gold standard, “manufactured money” and “quick fire base rate” policy responses – ie the mechanics of the economy - have (as seen) dramatically altered what were once very drawn-out recessions. Consumer culture created by industrialisation effectively demanded a new rapid response economic model. Yet still the past offers a partially applicable guide].

'MacKinnon-Dworkin Model Law' – A legislative model for the suppression of pornography, drafted in 1983, stating that pornography is a practice of sex discrimination, given the graphic and sexually explicit subordination of women through use of pictures or words. Relates primarily to trafficking, coercion and force upon the individual. “Pornography does not depict sexual degradation, it is sexual degradation”. Opposed by libertarians and specific anti-censorship groups (inc. feminist groups) it was refuted by the American Supreme Court in 1984, it was partially incorporated by Canada in 1992.

[NB Whereas once pornography was typically magazine publishing based, and then video-based, today's proliferation of internet based porn, often from amateur or seemingly amateur sources, has massively altered the social context since MacKinnon-Dworkin was debated. Whereas unquestionably the yesteryear industry located in specific locales and certain groups did traffic, coerce and force, today's contextual sphere is that of a socially absorbed and much 'normalised' pornography unfortunately accessible by all. The intentional early days creation of amateur porn coincided with the increased affordability of new video technologies, so prompting an explosion in real and fake amateur porn. This has snowballed, and with it what appears an obvious increase in sexual degradation, coercion and force to satiate very much increased and quickly bored viewership. Simultaneously seeing national and global expansion of willing and unwilling participants of all legal ages, with the arena of fetishistic porn now very much expanded to fill created niches, including the (once deemed freakishness) of dual-gender participants within the 'transhumanism' movement). Seemingly lost in time, today more that ever then the 'MacKinnon-Dworkin' should be reviewed, and such efforts could be possibly incorporated into new 'responsible porn' campaigns by avante garde companies in an attempt to have the mass populace think about its direct personal effects and overall societal effect...amounting to “radical conservatism”].

Marxism – A body of thought created by Marx and Engels describing an alternative ideology to capitalism, it became a powerful force across the USSR, China, Eastern Bloc, Cuba and Latin America from the early C20th through to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, when regarded as an increasingly failed system relative to the national development progress of capitalist countries. However, that ideal of mass equality still resonates with many, especially in times of economic malaise and very real hardship, and through the populist propaganda of idealism, the struggle for which is personified in a hyper-real manner by historic revolutionary heroes. To summarise, Marx believed that the 'surplus value' inherent in a product or service, recognised as profitability arose from an inherently unscrupulous process whereby a “fair day's wage for a fair day's work” is meaningless since wages are always paid on an unfair basis. Ultimately, the system cannot be reformed and so must be over-thrown given capitalism's negative (zero-sum) outcomes between the bourgeoisie and proletariat. At the same time it destroys human relations given the reality of naked self-interest. In stark contrast, Communism's manifesto aim was to “establish an association of citizens in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.

[NB The idealism of Communism has indeed seen varying levels of systematic success given its previous wide adoption. However, the fact is that in reality Communist idealism when put into practice has been plagued by corruption and abuse at many levels, from tyrannical leader to policeman to school-teacher to factory head to distributor to black marketeer. Whereas the 'naturally' balancing supply and demand function of capitalism (largely) precludes such levels of corruption (and especially engrained and normalised corruption). This so given the workings of the value chain pricing model – typically from heavily centralised primary sources gaining economies to scale to the infusion of phased added value to very decentralised end sales points. The restructuring of industries, as required after big economic recessions, undertaken to re-generate profitability. Moreover, the prime argument against strict Communism is that it inevitably deters progress, given that personal achievement is unrewarded (especially relative to social or economic impact, and that lacklustre contribution – below the ideological average - is relatively over-rewarded. This is why the USSR and others in reality did grade and reward its theoretically equal workers separately].

'Masquerade' – the notion that femininity is a masquerade, or matter of acting out a role (Riviere 1929) which fits the historical masculine ideal. However it was noted (in mid C20th) that even those women in positions of authority (conventionally 'masculine') habitually sought approval from father figures by adopting exaggeratedly feminine or even flirtatious behaviour. This hypothesises as a reaction to ward off possible male aggression. Little description of the characteristics of a 'real woman' vs 'masquerade woman'. First airing of the idea that gender is a social construct, less a matter of biology, more “a matter of performance”.

[NB the hypothesis “to ward off possible male aggression” helps to underpin the early tenets of Feminism, which increasingly even then in a far more structured society of deference, and certainly today appears hollow. The idea of 'gender as construct' was literally played-out to create new social ambiguities by various Berlin popular theatres and film during the Weimar Republic (ie populist Marlene Dietrich dressing sexily in man's dinner suit attire). As similarly with London's Bloomsbury Set, 'gender construct' central to the “progressive” freedoms sought by upper middle-class homosexuals and via role-play transvestitism in 'bright young thing' parties held by the overtly liberal-left intelligentsia. However, the terrible German privation which emanated from the 1929 Wall St crash - itself viewed by the common person as intentionally created by a small sect within the elite – began to perceive such libertine gatherings as morally debasing. This then has much relevance to today, as the sexual margins of not so long ago are increasingly broadcast as 'new mainstream'. For those who are typically older, responsible and aware, and typically conservative ex-immigrant people (who are now well settled and rightly able to voice their opinion), now may be the tipping-point for what thus far has been a very repressed anti-feeling in an overt PC atmosphere. Moreover the blurring of sexual identities - most powerfully through psycho-sexual association in pornography and sexually orientated forums – appears to be a driving force in seeking to possibly create new social constructs of weak vs strong tribal identities, (eg the trend for cuckolding hitherto masculine men, unfortunately deploying racial stereotyping to do so, so as to erode white male self esteem, and the “feminazification” of younger women. Gender and pyscho-sexual issues seemingly unfortunately dividing western societies, where more than ever cohesion is required].

'Modernism' – used to describe a variety of tendencies within European (ie Anglo-American) literature and art in the early C20th. Virginia Woolf (one of the Bloomsbury Set) proclaimed “in or about December 1910 the human character changed”, though more commonly 1922 is seen as the watershed year given the publication of radical literature. Seeking to break historical 'grande narratives' (Church, Monarchy etc), it was often seen (for very good reason) as a Bolshevik threat. Modernism sought opposing doctrines, from 'stream of consciousness' novels (eg Ulysses) to the creation of stark architecture, through use of scientific principles whereby 'form follows function'. As with the earlier formation of 'futurism', its raison d'etre was a subtle revolution to create anew, by sweeping away traditional social constructs upon which incumbent power-bases had deployed and relied. Part of Modernism's mantra was that socio-technical change was so rapid that change as itself becomes a form of changelessness, (so apparently providing opportunity for speedy, aligned changes in the power structure, eg the Modernist propaganda rise of Communism of the period).

'Narcissism' – the love of one's own image. Used in the early pyscho-analysis as the object-choice of older homosexuals who idolised young men who resemble them. Thereafter adapted as an believed process by which the libido is withdrawn from the outside world and directed toward the ego. Freud accorded that narcissists display something of the very young child's self-contentment and inaccessibility. The term also used regards the manner in which the achieved or unachieved fantasy aspirations of parents are projected onto their children's future lives.

[NB the 'psycho-babble' uses of the word are highly debatable. It appears that Freud chose to intentionally utilise this word – already well absorbed the Victorian era's love of classicism – as a powerful popular enabler for later supposed 'diagnosis'. The fact is the natural outward facing libido becomes very much diminished if any adult (young to old) has had a truly abysmal, life shattering, experience. The longer the bad experience, the more withdrawn s/he becomes. Given the natural power of the libido it is one of the last psycho-physical attributes to fade, and is arguably not turned inward to serve the ego, as stated. The supposed 'narcissistic inaccessibility' is very obviously a defence mechanism against the worst aspects of various people or broad society. This seen in the previous Part 1 weblog with the real-world reaction of real rape victims. As regards the use of the term today, its utilisation has become almost everyday given the effects of the camera-phone and almost limitless storage memory for hundreds (if not thousands) of 'selfies'. The cyber-enabled 'mirror' camera-phone, together with 24/7 celebrity imagery, social media image portrayal and critically much reduced general responsibilities of the individual, has obviously generated a broad culture of narcissism, especially so amongst those in their youthful prime. Whilst it is excusable for the youth in their prime, it has slowly crept across nearly all ages groups, propelled by the “ten years younger” culture].

'Newspeak' (News-Speak) – an Orwellian term used in the book '1984' and used as common currency since to disparagingly describe a form of either simplified or oxymoronic communication, typically for propaganda purposes. '1984' offers various slogans, the best known being 'war is peace'

[NB It has been noticed that there are more and more subtle instances where the once clear-cut media messages of the past (esp 1900s to 1970s) have become either increasingly blurred with use of 'muddy' words / phrases, or the original message of some current affairs articles is effectively switched (usually in geo-political reporting), or quite obviously where an article is deployed about one subject yet designed to enhance a recently engrained perception on an altogether different subject. The use of closely coupled or associative wording the methodology. So not quite at the point where some editors have become history re-writing Winston Smiths, but seemingly not too removed either. Part of the loss of previously entrenched 'grande narritives', supported by military might)].

'Organic Intellectual' – a term created by Gramsci (1971) which recognises that whilst all (wo)men are intellectuals - given that all human activity involves at least some creative and intellectual activity – not all (wo)men have the social function of intellectuals. Thus an error to concentrate on the intrinsic nature or intellectual activity rather than the system of relations that permit intellectual activity. Thus, 'intellectuals' described as 'traditional' (acting as subalterns of the incumbent system) vs 'organic' (those rising classes or groups which innovate to establish a new hegemony). Every fundamental social group has its stratum of 'organic intellectuals', and the role of the state or party is to weld both old and new varieties together so as to form an hegonemic bloc. Gramsci understood the power of science and technology in an increasingly complex society, itself creating new 'organic intellectuals'; foreshadowing the role of knowledge industries by the late C20th, at period since the production and administration of knowledge became as at least important, if not more important, as physical production.

[NB whilst Gramsci's observation was hardly newly enlightening, given that the process had been in place for nearly 200 years, it was a truism worth repeating given the watershed point of the early 1970s, demonstrated by digital calculators and watches; computerisation had moved well beyond the confines of the lab. Critically, though the 'traditional' vs new 'organic' mentalities were seen in the split between entrenched global and newly re-emerging corporations. Whilst the US, UK, and most of the European car-makers having successfully ridden the C20th wave, retained their old strictly hierarchical structures (with their intrinsic foibles) those countries which had to start afresh after WW2 and very importantly with an alternative, more cohesive, social mindset, recognised the importance of utilising people's intellectual capabilities below senior management, and in doing so were able to improve production and procurement efficiencies aswell as simultaneously raising quality standards. More than enough has been written about Toyota's influence, with its improved systems adopted by other Japanese, British, Americans and Koreans, but far less recognition is given to the prowess in 'professional welding' of internal capabilities in the German car industry. Both societies (arguably still somewhat feudal under the surface) have been able to exercise far more intellectualism from their corporate workers, possibly because of innate ownership structures].

'Pan-Opticanism' – 'pan' and 'optic' (all-seeing) and coined by Foucault (1975) describes a form of authoritarian power which relies not upon overt repression but upon constant surveillance of a population and 'discipline' or the regimentation of the body. Initially used by the Victorians in the 'hub and spoke' layouts of prisons, today a prime aspect of advanced and emerging nations. The individual (prisoner) never knows if he is being watched or not, and so is trapped by his visibility and 'silent discipline'.

[NB this has obviously come to pass with the installation in public spaces of cameras, in city centtes ad trouble-spot neighbourhoods, and on roadways (speed camera and general observation camera) as both an instruments of safety, fee income and infrastructure efficiency. However, now beyond the physical realm, the cyber realm has become even more remotely observed as an individual's cyber interaction and so mental space, may be remotely observed by state or corporations, given ever greater privatisation of state functions].

'Post-Colonial Theory' – a development of literary studies from 'commonwealth literature' and what was previously termed '3rd world studies' to analyse the global effects of European colonisation. Books such as 'Orientalism' (Said 1988) and 'The Empire Writes Back' (Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin 1989).

[NB a subject which may be described as increasingly defunct as those large and small EM countries increasingly create ever more expanding national cultures, the content of which increasingly embraces indigenous culture vs imported cultures (typically American). However, somewhat misleading is the fact that 'post-colonial theory' is described as not simply the context after national independence, but the influence of colonisation from the initial time of colonisation to the present day. Interesting is the manner in which the west seeks to retain influence on ex-colonial cultures, such as the deployment of the author Tiffin, whose name was adopted by the aspirant Indians under the British Raj for light meal, taken from the civilities of afternoon tea. A subject area which is set to become ever more prominent in global popular culture as worldwide those people affected by in various ways by colonialism (from freedom fighter to 4th generation immigrant) are prompted to configure their own C21st identities].

'Post-Modernism' – a term applied to a wide variety of cultural practices and theoretical discourses associated with the 'post-modern experience', coming to the fore during the 1970s onward. Names such as William Burrows, Marshall McLuhan, John Barth and John Cage are viewed as the harbingers of the subject area, with others such as Kurt Vonnegut and Umberto Eco later proponents. The central aspect of much of this writings was the deliberate paradoxes and contradictions used, inter-playing genres and high and popular culture, so appealing to a wide audience. This intellectual hybridisation was also recognised in (typically American) architecture by critics such as Robert Venturi in his 'Learning from Las Vegas', observing the eclectic and magical results of largely 1950s 'pop-u-lux' styles, which themselves were often brash comic novelty mixed with high-brow classicism. Historically this evolved and ranged from “the decorated shed” (eg first Vegas Casinos and Shopping Mall environments) to “classicism with a twist” (eg Disney Corp's HQ and regeneration of Las Vegas along the 'New Strip'). Charles Jencks named this “double coding” by which two contrasting styles or more are deployed, as 'knowing juxtapositions'. From the philosophical angle, prime observers and instigators were the the likes of Jacques Derrida and Jean Baudrillard, whilst Jean-Francois Lyotard argues that 'grande narratives' are long past and that 'little narratives' now drive science, art and literature. Critical for him is the issue of 'scientific legitimacy' and the manner in which computerisation as information machines has and will massively changed the power structure of society; so much so that “one day for knowledge to be considered useful it will have to be turned into computerized data, leading to publication of 'The Inhuman'.

[NB as seen 'post-modernism' caught the wide academic consciousness by the mid-1970s and had real-world physical affect by the mid-1980s with the popularisation of a “simulacrum effect” becoming a wide and diverse field and so impacting a range of creative disciplines. From corporate architecture to the innately self-referential tropes and characters that typically sit as part of the background in a digital animation (eg the Toyota 'Pizza Planet' truck from Toy Story inserted into most of Pixar's cartoon movies). Under post-modernism it then appears that the two prime forces are then a) the physical world being constructed and re-constructed around the imaginary, computer created world of entertainment, and b) (as per Lyotard) the apparent subjugation of individual and mass human activity under computerisation, from leisure-time video-gaming by a wide age range, to the capital goods replacement of the low skilled employed via the computer. Exactly what the ultimate effects of (broadly termed) 'post-modernism' on western society at the macro and micro levels remains to be seen, whether it causes a general “contentment cohesiveness” or “reactionary fractures”].

'Projection' – in what appears an ever more disfunctional, even angry western society, the realm of psycho-analysis is being deployed to supposedly understand such trends. 'Projection' is the Freudian developed process which enables the subject to expel feelings. Used as an underlying element in the diagnosis of supposed paranoia. As per a supposed case of Freud in 1911, the phrase “I hate him” is miraculously transformed by 'projection' to “he hates me and is persecuting me”.

[NB In an increasing world of 'bio-politics' – see previous weblog – as well as the rise of the pharmaceutical sector regards old and new psychological ills, we shall see an increase in so called 'professionals' who have been trained in what is in reality the “pyscho-babble” of Freudian processes and diagnosis. Once again, drawing a parallel to the society of pre WW2 Germany is useful, wherein Viennese 'practicioners' such as Freud were developing structures of psycho-analysis to supposedly meet patients' problems. The fact is that these patients were largely drawn from the monied Christian Austro-Hungarian aristocracy and upper middle classes, who in a broader sense were themselves were under socio-economic attack from the counter-veiling Bolshevicks. However, reading between the lines of history, the patients themselves not so obviously attacked through violence and social propaganda, but through the association and assimilation. Certain tribes identified those who were both wealthy and who were overtly liberal with socialist ideals; typically naïve and open younger members of elite families. These were befriended by Bolshevik members and sympathisers and the target would be deliberately pyschologically hounded and damaged by their supposed friends; so as to create very real personal mental problems and so seek psychotherapeutic “help”. (Those who has greater social and self awareness would thankfully escape). The Viennese psycho-analysts, assuming (yet again) the character of friend and helper would then disingenuously try to erase the patients actual, natural and all too real understanding of his/her experiences, and moreover seek-out further fears, so as to be preyed upon by remote associates; aswell as also seeking to understand the inter-personal structures of family and friends; critically finding out who else might be likewise targeted. And so the process would be repeated. Since WW2 across North America, Europe and elsewhere this “pyscho-babble”, looks to have been preceded by long-term harassment, and has since been deployed in a similar manner upon unsuspecting members of a much enlarged middle-classes who have obtained independent wealth or who are set to inherit sizeable fortunes.

'Risk Society' – an expression deriving from the German sociologist Ulrich Beck, (1986) of how risk – its calculation and probability – has become an essential feature of modern societies. It is posited that the drive toward ever greater technological domination of the natural world, both raises living standards but also has high consequences of associated risk, albeit at a low probability. Global warming, chemical toxicity, ecological catastrophe etc, with nuclear accidents (as seen in Chernobyl and NE Japan) the most prolific. Living with a calculative attitude to such possibilities, typified by the use of [previously described] “what if” counter-factuals, becomes an essential feature of collective and individual life.

[NB the notion of risk is of course fundamental to the original establishment of the insurance sector, itself a primary element of today's massive global financial services sector. The broad expansion of societal activities and pursuits since the industrial revolution then applied the risk thinking and calculation that was once effectively only really applied to the fire risk of wooden buildings or to the storm sinking of trade ships. (Many long-standing or since absorbed insurance agents created after the Great Fire of London in 1666, and of course the association of Lloyds of London with maritime). Today, risk spans virtually every dimension of life, from the possibility of theft whilst on holiday to the under-taking of dangerous sports through to conventional commercial practices and now into the realms of very specialised financial markets and instruments. Given the importance of 'risk' today / tomorrow in terms of those payable premiums which are used as a float to underpin sizeable portions of the financial markets (inc. re-insurance), and the necessary need for that system to continue to grow global capitalism, it seems very likely that the essence of risk culture so endemic in society (now entrenched with the 'cotton-wool kids' syndrome) is set to remain].

'Romance' – originally a literary genre initiated in the Middle Ages, the term derives from the vernacular languages which evolved from the late antiquity of Latin (French, Italian, Spanish, Portugese and Romanian). The term propelled by the tales of romantic heroism and adventure, typically amongst European courtiers of the time, with special association to Roman-Catholic Christianity as a then propagandist method for creating crusading armies into the Middle-Eastern Holy Lands. Since the definition very much altered via the poetic tradition and thereafter 'romantic love'. In this mould first commonly applied to fictional literature in the C18th for middle-class female readership, itself moving from publications such as 'Clarissa' and 'Pride and Prejudice' (demonstrating the fantasy of an imploded class structure through a meeting of minds and morals) through to very specifically contextualised settings, often by which a remote or wild male figure is tamed or obtained by the female. With the C19th and C20th periods being those of relatively high geographic social mobility amongst workers, and aspects of the old class structure seemingly eradicated as poorer 'landed families' sought the financial heft of the newer entrepreneurial classes, so 'romance' became a new lever by which to meld people from (often very) different backgrounds. The genre has obviously been the critical element to the rationale of marriage, partnerships and off-spring, hence the ideals of romance have ever since been extolled by the entwined interplay of social expectations / aspirations and the culture industry.

[NB romance as known today obviously continues as the primary effector of western society. Whilst also operating as an important social lever over the last 20 years or so in BRIC, CIVETS and Pioneer nations, where it operates as a mechanism for social mobility and so performs as a corner-stone of aspirational capitalism. However, in the west and Japan, where as once it served as part of the social dream-scape, under-pinned by stable employment, economic growth and ideals of the nuclear family, that backdrop is today very much shifted. Whilst it will undoubtedly continue to influence, it seems probable that new formulae will influence, indeed for some dictate, the choice of partners, something akin to self-arranged partnerships with those of a very similar economic standing and conservative outlook. In this manner, for many who seek to both protect themselves from the financial ravages of divorce and recognise the new imperative to retain family wealth (even if relatively minimal) down through later generations, seeking very similarly situated partners (economically and intellectually) will become an increasing need. Thus, very possible if not probable, that the west partially returns to what is deemed as a lost yesteryear practice of (self) arranged marriages and partnerships with close social equals. In this way the west returns to a practice which until recently has been major aspect of previously poorer and cautious 2nd and 3rd world regions. Romance may not be dead, but it looks to become better balanced by a steadfast economic rationality by both astute males and females].

'Semiology / Semiotics' – defined by Saussure (1916) as the science of signs and the study of the life of signs within social life. At the time he believed the true science had yet to be developed, but asserted that eventually even linguists would be seen as a sub-category of semiotics. Fifty years later Roland Barthes broadened the definition to include all sign-systems including images, gestures and melodic sounds...“everything from a menu used to select and combine the items that make-up a meal through to the fashion system that operates in womans' magazines can be studied in semiological terms”.

[NB Obviously sign and signifier has for very long been part of human culture, early-on so as to identify the individual as part of a certain tribe or clique, ranging from clothing and regalia indicating status through to the uniqueness of a Freemason's handshake to indicate secret fellowship. But the modern world has seen the deployment of very semiotics grow almost exponentially, yet again obviously through aspects such as tribal affiliation, but also the necessary increase of very basic graphic forms and codification within both a bigger and more environmentally complex man-made world, and the need to similarly navigate an increasingly technologically driven world. Literal signs then the most basic of semiology. However, even at this simple level whilst navigational sign systems are generally well recognised and an easy aid (eg road signs) the complexity of a system must be appreciated between sender and receiver when relaying information, as recognised in a recent research project undertaken by the British motoring organisation the AA. It is understood that a modern car's dashboard can exhibit anything between 40 and 65 warning lights displaying vehicle systems related symbols, however, whilst meaningful to motorists of the past, many such symbols have become effectively foreign to the majority of mechanically ignorant drivers].

'Sub-Culture' – an aspect of general cultural studies, it started out effectively by stating the obvious about the youth identities of London's East-End, regards style of dress, alignment to popular music and territory demarcations. The term 'resistance through rituals' was coined by which the young seek to create their own self identity – albeit set by prevailing media manufactured trends. The sub-cultures studied in the UK were: mods, teddy boys, skinheads, rastafarians and hard drug users. Two female contributors noted that these sub-cultures were invariably male created, and that female created sub-cultures (to that point of the mid 1970s) did not really exist.

[NB given the power of mainstream societies in structuring an operable framework, sub-cultures have historically always tended to exist as an act of rebellion from the authoritarian mainstream. As with the animal kingdom. In the distant past tribal group leadership contests would invariably based upon an opposing sub-culture (belief), and if unsuccessful in gaining power would invariably relocate to create a new alternative social group. However, once this was not practicable for a society alternative social configurations were needed, which provided enough leeway for identity demarcation yet allowed for general social integration, this especially true amongst testosterone-fuel younger males, but also increasingly younger females' own striving for apparent autonomy.
The social constructs of sports*, fashion, music and later video games would be that framework.
* It is no coincidence that football was introduced to the masses and popularised in the same period that Saturday was added as a rest day and the 'weekend' was created].

'Social Engineering' – a popularised phrase at the beginning of the C20th, although the subject of improved societal control and the improvement of living standards for all discussed as a critical issue since the 1840s in Britain, and similarly later elsewhere in Europe and America. The issue gaining importance after periods of socio-economic turmoil, experienced with events such as the French Revolution and the brewing Russian Revolution. It spans much, from the very broad concept of scientific eugenics (itself later be recast as near demonic) through to the advent of socially enhancing urban planning with 'Garden Suburbs' and 'Garden Cities' movements and provision, as central to population growth and redistribution.

[NB given the essential need to organise, 'social engineering' has been with humanity in one form or another for millennia. As cities grow large and more frenetic, so central and local government, along with business, has had to evolve its thinking regards maintaining order and improving general conditions. Today this covers an even broader spectrum, from social order cameras in city centres, to the design of public transport to even the artworks shown on the walls of McDonalds and similar (eg use of an abstract design in local town centre restaurant which evokes a finger-print, so as to deter rowdy youngsters from shop-lifting and general theft). The monitoring and indeed manipulation of the internet perhaps the biggest enabler to social engineering, which like public space cameras, also seen an an infringement of personal liberty].

'Veblenism' – the term derived from the name of Thorstein Bunde Veblen, a American socio-economist at his pinnacle at the turn of the C20th. His book 'Theory of Leisure Class' (1899). 'Veblenism' as popularly understood in economics is the concept that in certain typically luxury orientated goods, the stated price of an item equates to its notional value. That is to say, whilst it has connotations of “you get what you pay for”, this is not the over-riding edict. Instead the price itself is the function usually demonstrating its affordability to the very wealth few. As Veblen explains, it is the innate irony that such high sums of money are used on often frivolous items that demonstrates the buyer/owner's own wealth and power. To a lesser extent, but similar, is the amount of expenditure spent on other wasteful forms of entertainment: gambling, narcotics, parties etc. Such consumption designed to confer prestige as the consumer can bear his/her losses with relative ease.
Thus social superiority is notionally gained (by the consumer's ego) via the expensive and exotic.
Veblen himself used his writings to spotlight the then contemporary attitudes in American culture, especially amongst the “nouveaux riches”.

[NB whilst conspicuous consumption is indeed a prime element of capitalism - given the innate model of a) money creation b) consumption c) production d) creation - to produce, it is well recognised that such activity obviously depends upon the socio-economic conditions of a specific period. Hence today, with the effects of the 2008 crisis still prevalent in the west, and the contraction of the Chinese economy with anti-corruption drives, new trends of both real and false puritanicalism have emerged, with either the genuine or fake desire by the wealthy to avoid being socially insensitive. Indeed, depending upon personal circumstance and environment, often the decision to be seen to be sensitive is actually the realisation that such forms of display may indeed provoke acts of aggression, typically vandalism on expensive vehicles, so in reality damage limitation exercises].

To Summise -

This basic compendium, spaced over the 2 weblogs, provides what investment-auto-motives hopes will be a new requestioning of social trends, with new forms emerging and the fragmentation of older genres.

Although each and every corporation operates slightly differently, their basic approaches and methods regards understanding the 'here and now' – and critically its formation of the future - are largely the same. To this end, the auto-sector should recognise the advances made elsewhere in other sectors, and seek to engrain such intelligence and expand its exploration into what at first appear very nebulous topics.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Macro-Level Trends – Social Trend Drivers – Critical Theory (Part 1)

The realms of fashion clothing, fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) and other areas of broader retail have long sought to appreciate and leverage the various heavily entwined strands of social change and consumerism, effectively creating “cause coupled consumerism”.

[NB the 'rockstar' philosopher Slavoj Zizek has well demonstrated the manner by which social values have been absorbed into the retail transaction, eg Starbucks coffee, so as to both create and assuage inherent consumer guilt].

The Benetton adverts of the late 1980s struck a massive chord at the time and boosted the sales of knitwear etc immensely as the trend for conscientious consumption sprouted; along with the “fur is murder” campaign splattered across over-priced designer T-shirts. Later came the adoption of apparent 'fair-trade' practices by the large super-market chains. With more recently, in a polar opposite sphere, Christian Louboutin deploying the worthiness of hand-painted original traditional shoes, with a modern twist, by Bhutanese artists.

Unlike FMCG and fashion, with far more immediate overtones, the high purchase price and long lifetime use of a car has thus far typically been relatively untouched by the peaks and piques of social consciousness.

That is not to say social consciousness has gone unheeded, far from it. Manufacturers well recognise the regulatory and consumer importance of CO2 emissions of cars (but also factories), and likewise the many-fold increase in the sustainable sourcing of materials, making major strides forward, so leading industrial world, (shifts initially led by the Germans and Japanese). Annual Reports and Sustainability Reports extol the ongoing advancements made.

Yet the new car is still fortunately viewed as apart from typical shopping.

Today's somewhat eroded but still powerful perspective comes from the historical precedent as to what a new car ostensibly represents as a status symbol (whether within a council estate or private members club), the patently very different decision-making and purchase process of the car - even with the influence of the web – and the fact that any 'commoditisation' that has occurred has prompted producers and distributors to enhance the purchase process, from Hyundai-Kia's leverage of the brand's “touch-point” in the UK's Bluewater shopping mall, to Rolls-Royce's Berkeley Square site being closed upon a weekend to intentionally espouse 'establishment traditionalism'.

Thus, the very dynamics of system which produced a long-lived product, its perception and usage, means that the automotive sector's not being in the immediate consumption arena allows it to escape 'in the moment' of consumer trends. Instead, it must accord to the demands of not short-term marketplace trends, but the requirement to appease and indeed lead those socio-economic trends which have far greater overall, long horizon shifts across the ever-broadening global PESTEL space.

For nigh on a century after its inception the car offered: firstly novelty, then status, thereafter comfort, then convenience, with by the early 1920s the conventional formulae set by way of separated segmentation (eg Austin 7 to Hispano-Suiza). The rise of competitive motor racing also adding market-place attraction whether dedicated (eg Type 35 Bugatti) or modified (eg Austin 7 Ulster) providing an additional draw for consumer attraction, differentiation and expectation.

[NB It was only much later - after a cost-based reluctance by manufacturers in the 1950s – did safety became a slowly rising concern, though still to this day lagging aspects such as style to this day].

Thus luxury, sportiness and, essential for the mass market, 'middle of the road' aggregated attributes for the common car, with varying levels of practicality and efficiency, dependent upon the socio-economic demands and expectations of various countries: (ie in the post-WW2 period: France's pram-like Citroen 2CV versus the UK's 'middling' Morris Minor versus America's ubiquitous large Ford Custom.

Although periodically witnessed previously, during the 1957 and 1974 oil crises, it was not until post Kyoto Summit, in the 1990s that the formulae was truly expanded to include the new dimension of ecological efficiency; early recognition such as the limited production small engined, 3 cylinder Opel Corsa of the time, now an increasing norm.

[NB Stop Press - the recent revelation that Volkswagen (and possibly others) have fitted Euro IV and V emissions 'detection defeat' devices - written into the ECU software code - has obviously made headline news. (The VW share has been hammered after China's rapid slowdown, and now a further near 20% drop, so presently viewed as worth nearly half its value of six months ago). Nonetheless, it must be recognised that car-makers have indeed made substantial CO2 and 'particulates' reductions in real world conditions, via the powertrain advances over the last 20 years to the public good. Fortunately, the revelation now will demand even greater research and development efforts, across whole vehicle engineering, not typical bias toward powertrain. The news then could become the step change required to see substantial new advances].        

And of course since the turn of the 21st century the explosion of the personal and systems communications era has seen vehicle increasingly become mobile computing platforms for a wide array of electronics-based opportunities (ie GM's OnStar and Ford's SYNC highlighting the broad initial base-line through to VM and OEM research on highway-bound self-driving trucks and Google's efforts of a wholly autonomous 'urban pod'.

Such developments then have been introduced primarily in recognition of political pressures, associated regulatory demands and lobbying bodies (eg Smog reduction efforts, CAFE fuel efficiency demands, and NCAP safety measures). But also, more recently, in a bid to gain in-market competitive advantage, the very innards of vehicle systems themselves have been expanded, co-opted external solutions and so effectively redefined by electro-mechanical and electrical research and development engineers; so as to create new worlds of possibilities, such as “car as comms centre” and more futuristic “car as (input-output) energy centre” ,

Combinations of once very different technical disciplines, and the creation of ever more powerful technological platforms has led to the contemporary oft used adage that: “the contemporary car has greater computing prowess than the systems that sent the Apollo missions to the moon”.

So, as is obvious, unlike the far more transient occurrences within FMCG, fashion or more generalist retail, which trade far less complex and costly products, the development of the car has, (besides tactical competitive actions of style or specification), been somewhat remote from the obvious trends public / consumer attention has been drawn toward.

[NB Though it must be said that much of the attention created regards certain issues, has - since the days of the BodyShop brand – been a useful conduit to promote the general persona of an 'ethical brand' for commercial reasons; the more affluent the end-buyer the more conscientious s/he tends to believe themselves to be; even if it be for the sake of keeping-up appearance amongst their social set].

However, this is not to say that auto-makers take no note of the broader consumer environment and psyche. Though understandably low on any Board-level discussion agenda, each manufacturer does to varying degrees research the broader world beyond the immediate, more rudimentary demands of product, brand and buyer-type research. Though with a marketing functions typically spending much of its time upon more immediate strategic and tactical concerns, all too often actually plotting the broad picture of tomorrow's social environment, marketplace, consumer circumstances, attitude and prevalent behavior, into a meaningful and usable package tends to be an overtly hard task.

Typically any such effort will be undertaken as a shared project between marketing and design, using the edicts of any renowned social commentator, forecaster and 'futurologist' as assumed corner-stones.
It obviously makes complete sense to utilise the learning of specialist others, those who are adept at such social readings, increasingly deploying the valuable input of 'big data' measures as our world becomes increasingly 'networked'.

And very usefully, today's upload video age allows marketeers to become aware of new and promoted new social movements such as 'MGTOW'.

[NB MGTOW (Men Going Their Own Way) is an enhanced version of the 'Herbivore' phenomenon seen earlier in Japan, a consequence of its early 1990s economic melt-down. This recent but widespread western trend has grown massively, and points to what is now viewed as a much altered gender equality landscape; whereby the equality rights of women (eg employment, pay) have been correctly given, yet whereby many woman are hypocritically happy to continue to gain in many ways from their socially engrained position.

Such men believe that many woman have abused the position of the 'weaker sex' to gain circumstantial power of men, especially when “crying wolf” to the authorities. This trend long emerged in poorer ex-industrial towns as long as 30 years ago, but today very heavily prompted post the 2008 crisis, generating lost employment and lost social roles for men, so creating financial friction in the home, given the high consumer expectations of many women, driven by the media, who themselves represent the majority of purchasing transactions in the post-industrial era.

This trend then a result of society's very stilted reaction – (ie non-reaction) - to the collapse of traditional gender-based roles, expectations and capabilities. MGTOW men view it as very unfortunate but necessary to separation from women as the only rational choice in what they view as an irrational, very biased society toward the overt interests of women and the expense of men].

This example demonstrates why, beyond FMCG, and so for auto-makers it is very worthwhile investigating socio-economic developments at this point in time, at what may be seen as at a philosophically deeper level – the very same arena as Zizek and his predecessors.

To this end the loosely defined academic discipline of 'Critical Theory' assists.

One definition cited as: “an activity that takes society as its object, and that attempts to transcend the tensions between individual spontaneity and the work-process relationships on which society is based”. The field itself was born in the 1930s, elements of which were born directly from the rise of consumerism.

[NB Consumerism itself an obviously increasingly important activity as reprieve from and reward for an industrial-age life of toil, and the concomitant 'alienation' of the process-linked, cog-like, factory worker or clerk].

As an idealistic whole, Critical Theory then purports to identify the sociological and pyschological actions and movements which ultimately combine to create the swirls, eddies and current of contemporary culture. Thus better assisting the amateur anthropologist, above and beyond the typically more obvious 'societal readings' of futurologists, in his/her attempt to grasp the emergence of tomorrow's world.

This web-log is hardly the forum by which to proffer notion of a future socio-economic construct, but instead, to provide a flavour, investment-auto-motives provides an uncurated list of selected themes which have and may well continue to underpin change (if past trends continue).

[NB Here it must be stated that in the interest of impartiality, 'Critical Theory' as formed and recognised was created by the “liberal left” academia of Germany and Eastern Europe, propelled by the liberal anti-religious and anti-monarchist conducive atmosphere that was the Weimar Republic, transported to America and the UK by emigree academics before and after WW2. As such anyone absorbing themselves in the field should be aware of the likely heavily 'leftist' political agenda behind its formation and global dispersion; especially so relative to use of mass-media].

This said, it at least serves as a useful 'social catalogue' for those trying to gain focus on the future].

Selected Themes from 'Critical Theory' -
(presented from A- Z)

'Afro-centricism' – Increasing profile in today's super-power soft-power tussle over the agricultural and resource riches of Africa, a school of thought which builds upon the writings of Marcus Garvey, reacting against 'Euro-centrism'.

'Alienation' – First highlighted by Marx with 'unhappy consciousness' resulting from estrangement to an intrinsically natural order. Marx cites structures of (the then) modern capitalism as at fault, with (wo)man effectively experiencing the subconscious feeling of being a disassociated 'cog' within the corporate construct, typically as repetitive action factory worker.

(the) 'Authentic' – Mode of being which seeks to understand the self's existential situation, therefore beyond feelings of 'alienation'. (the) Inauthentic representing the commonplace tranquilized familiarity of the world, convinced that s/he knows everything, and thus likely to drift into 'alienation'. However, the higher the 'authenticism' typically the greater the induced anxiety, given a greater awareness of the apparent truth of a situation, yet “making his own” the freedom to which s/he is condemned. The recent western rise of flexible lifestyles (ie increase in employment instability, greater freelancing etc - as a result of major economic shift - creating a tipping-point toward increased social divides between the 'authentic' and 'inauthentic'; possibly generating a growing social distinction between core creators (physical, cyber and entrepreneurial and peripheral consumers.

'Bio-Politics' – a phrase coined by Foucault in 1979 to denominate how the state seeks to better rationalise the problems caused by and within a population: health, hygiene, birth rates etc. The matter of treating the social body, and with a primary focus on prevention over cure. Lifestyles and child-raising areas increasingly viewed as areas for medical intervention, with medical practice increasingly integrated into socio-economic management of society. The UK's post WW2 NHS promoted this leap in thinking, to maintain a healthy productive population, with latterly the introduction of ever more corporate interests, from 1980s trendy gyms to 2010s active-wearables. Britain's InnovateUK strategic analysis of tomorrow's national economic agenda gave high profile to this field as it shifts from political aim to commercialised reality.

'Bricolage' – French for tinkering about, a 'Bricoleur' undertakes a role as odd-job person or jack-of-all-trades. First properly deployed relative to 'intellectual bricolage' whereby mid 20th century culture became increasingly 'post-modern' with new cultural identities born from varied sources, so creating “new myths”. Seen most obviously in fashion from Mods (adoption of the Italian foreign) to Punks, Rockers, Bikers (anti-establishment iconography) to today's Gangsta appropriation of prison-culture. However, perhaps more meaningfully, today's increasingly less structured, short-termist and temporary employment base, coupled with ageing populace, less prosperity and rise of post 2008 'make do and mend' culture (theatrically re-packaged as the WW2 spirit) may mean that the 'Bricoleur' in its truest sense – a jack-of-all-trades – becomes far more relevant to socio-economic reality. As the games programmer also evolves and sells his/her basic DIY skills. Hence a chameleon-like nature of both relatively highly-skilled and relatively low-skilled economic agent.

[NB If as some predict, the true 'Post-Capitalism' western world does arrive as the result of consistent low growth economic debilitation, such parallel chameleon careers would mimic the traits of the old slow growth 'Eastern-Bloc' model, and this type of national or regional productivity agency would indeed reflect those Marxist ambitions which were a central tenet Communism].

'Counter-Factual' – described as an excursion into imaginary or fictional history; speculation about alternative outcomes or versions of events. (eg “what if there had been no American Revolution”?, “What if communism had not collapsed?, “What if Germany had invaded Britain in 1940? etc etc). Whilst science fiction is hardly achievable without the “what if” question to create alternative circumstances and environments, the 'counter-factual' is presently viewed as at the beginning of a new age. The history of global current affairs is being revisited and retold in a newly cast shadow to match the zeitgaist (ie recent broadsheet newspaper applauding of China's defeating Fascism...yet conveniently ignoring the previous Capitalism vs Communist political friction). And just as this is being worked on the public consciousness, so small but growing groups are appearing, which start to question national and international history as told, seeking greater truths. Hence far greater questioning about that which was taken for granted, perhaps especially so about all that was previously “unquestionable”. 'Counter-Factual' in definition then moved beyond its original meaning and now viewed as intellectual / academic 'Anti-Thesis' for an increasingly educated, sceptical and questioning (post 2008) western populace.

'Commodity Fetishism' – originally, this arises from the twofold nature of a produced object; its functional use and its exchange value. But typically the human input into an item during its manufacture is invisibly subsumed into the very essence of the item, thus the characteristics of labour appear to be the natural properties of the object. A fetish is an object invested with supernatural powers by those who worship it; today's obvious examples being branded luxury shoes, handbags etc, effectively deified by the middle-class female. However, beyond this obvious recognition, Marx's point was that most items exchanged in the capitalist economy hold similar illusory autonomy for its participants.

'Culture Industry' – the traditional (enlightenment based) notion of culture implies a critical attitude to the status qou, social freedom deemed inseparable from this ideology. Whereas the culture industry produces very formulaic products (spanning everything from most art to retro cars) for public consumption. In mass culture the individual consumer is said to be king, but his supposed cultural needs have been anticipated and shaped by the requirements of the industry. Apparently differentiated products sold at different price points are essentially similar in content, but directed to different buyer types (demographics). 'CI' then spans much theory, from commodity fetishism (of say a “throwaway” item of clothing), to 'veblenism' (whereby a high price paid, more than innate qualities of an object, infers status). The 'CI' effect now so engrained it smothers not only obviously 'low' populist culture, but also 'high' culture as its once cutting-edge intellectualism is dulled.

'Deconstructionism' – this term now so popularised in common culture (ie aspirational restaurants serving art-form 'fetishised' food) that its original academic meaning is unknown by most. Deconstructionism originated in the academic philosophical study and dissection of previous philosopher's conclusions, thus leading to ever more introspective / meta-physical appreciation; and likewise in a self-fulfilling manner swelling the ranks of liberal academia and having ever greater bearing on the culture industry. Its primary remit was to shatter the previous idiom of 'structuralism', the typically binary schemas of existence (from natural male-female genders, to right-wing left-wing politics etc) so creating multi-fold possibilities (of sexuality or politics etc) depending upon the prevailing (usually media-led) social narration.

'Dialectic' – a form of reasoning which uses patterns of questions and answers to arrive an truths; accompanied rhetoric and grammer in the original university “trivium”. As part of the 17th/18th century enlightenment movement it was promoted by 'new thinkers' who sought to release the masses from their superstitions, tyranny and so immaturity. So seeking a rational humanity. In reaction to today's deconstructionist media-led social narrations moulding western society – werein only rhetoric is deployed to lead the masses through easily manipulated 'feelings' not rationality - a new opposing re-enlightenment thrust (structuralist) is emerging, with some commentators using dialectic reasoning to underpin their assertions for a less fragmented, more coalesced society.

'Empiricism' – holds that all knowledge is gained via the experiences of the five senses; and allied to 'logical empricism'. This dependent upon neutral and dispassionate observation of the world, common-sense respect for the facts and distrust of speculation. The then 'new left', dissatisfied with “weak empiricism” thereafter created 'theory' and latterly 'critical theory'. However, it must be recognised that the leaps in scientific progress made from the Renaissance onward, in much from astronomy to medicine, even throughout times of harassment and persecution by the then all powerful Church, was thanks to the core belief of empiricism, itself led by a form of belief (and or) spirituality. Today, in an ever more techno-narrative led world, it seems that few high profile voices like Richard Dawkins maintain that questioning, objective stance.

'Ethno-centrism' – the tendency to view the characteristics and cultures of other groups by the standards defined or recognized by the observer's own ethnic group; inevitably negative and pejorative and so subtly or powerfully serve racism. This undoubtedly true, especially amongst those in power who intentionally undermine so as to re-affirm the power structure, even when done in a joking manner. Yet it may also be argued that an increased fragmentation of western society, has been caused, perhaps in reaction to the power-base, whereby once increasingly assimilated groups have latterly created new hybrid identities (part ancestorial, part contemporary drawn from prevailing culture). Ironically then, increasingly it appears that the innate hybridisation of the masses is undermining previous typically colonial based ethno-centricity, even though historically the power-base families of whichever country and creed have inter-mixed with “ethnic others” to grasp economic opportunity.

'Feminism' – the most influential social movement of the 20thc century, obviously based upon the belief that females have been historically suppressed and made unequal to men in regards social rights etc. A long association with socialism, buoyed by in the 1970s publication of 'The Female Eunuch', whilst radical feminism points to the construct of the “patriarchal family”. Today the topic spans much from 'militant feminism' to the 'celebration of gender differences'. As with 'deconstructionism', grown in fragmentation and complexity as identity-based sub-threads emerged, primarily lesbian in tone, the subject now very much blurred in the public eye because of its spread across heterosexual and homosexual interests, and by labels such as 'butch lesbians' and 'lipstick lesbians', 'asexual lesbians', as well as males who have undergone “sexual re-alignment” surgeory. Today's demands for equality highlighted by calls for qoutas at board-room level down, this heralded (far too overly) simply as an echo of Pankhurst's suffrage. Commercialisation of the movement now well entrenched as greater numbers of females became financially independent, so ripe for prospecting (eg female only car insurance, female-only clubs and gym classes, and now the renewed possibility of female-only train carriages).

[NB Feminism per se is now viewed by various newer men's and some female groups as having been hi-jacked by far less honourable women (than its originators) for the purposes of undermining men. From at best the previous lobbying against men only clubs and institutions, only to form their own social segregation, to at worst falsified accusations of violence and rape. So making it harder for the police and law to differentiate between real and false claims, thus wasting social resources for the sake of selfish supposed “female empowerment”].

[NB as regards the effects of real vs false rape, the words of one youtube commentator say it all:
“I've dealt with REAL rape victims, they are usually diagnosed with flashbacks, panic attacks, tendency to hide, refuse to leave the house and try to dress as unattractively as possible, cut contacts to friends, and try to stay alone with absolutely no trust in people anymore and refuse to talk others. Now at that point, if I see supposed 'rape victims' who go around social media [trolling and victimising others] I view them as liars”.

'Flow' – a psychological mode now well understood by many, including general public, yet rarely rejecte. 'Flow' refers to the manner in which television created an absorbing and ongoing temporal experience for the participant, whereas previous participation in a book, film or theatre has been essentially a distinctly singular experience. This social phenomenon long used by television broadcasters to retain viewers and to increase audience sizes, ratings and so the value of advertising revenues. Best illustrated by the creation of 'soap TV' and latterly '24/7 rolling news'. The emergence of the internet saw likewise an intention to create “participatory flow”, with high levels of audience interaction, very much a core strategy of media outlets and commercial entities that wish to retain screen attention for high attention, high profitability business models.

[NB 'flow' is of course reliant upon the subconscious absorption of the people into the the created world of television. Importantly, it must also be noted that very Machiavellian types, often with direct or indirect connections to the media, use the innate power of that subconscious absorption to manipulate the perceptions and emotions of their others to intentionally influence or weaken. The average person – typically very unwary and trusting - should better recognise how this process is deployed by immoral perpetrators. A media history of inbuilt political bias means that today younger people have started to distrust mass media, and portions of the obviously mass-media owned internet. However, a pernicious use of “media messaging”, supported by real-world manipulation, now goes far deeper than the majority of the public understand, and should be well recognised by any person of influential targeted].

'Grand Narratives' - a term in which social belief systems are legitimised by a validating historical philosophy; typically seen as the entwined institutions of a society (eg the Church, Monarchy or National Declaration of Independence). Ostensibly the positing of an origin (ie God) or an end (ie Protection or Emancipation), which can be used as a societal backbone; seen as a powerful methodology of the past, but weakened in the post-modern era, with now a series of 'Little Narratives' seen relative to local and minority interests. It is claimed that few people feel any nostalgia for the increasingly lost grand narratives, yet consumers do indeed gain comfort from regurgitation of previous golden ages and their respective icon products (eg 'originals' [eg Aga cookers or Anglepoise lamps] reproduction furniture and retro-products). These perhaps tangible 'stability substitutions' to gain a feeling of 'hyper-real' consistency in a rapidly changing world.

'Group-In-Fusion' – coined in 1960, the term alludes to individuals who once existing in 'seriality' combine (in 'parallel') to become united in a common purpose. This transcends 'alienation' to allow persons to interact on a collective project. These can be positive when for the social good, but also negative, such as historically; when in a time of food scarcity a queue of people riot in the belief that either not enough food is available, or the first in the queue may wilfully deprive others; and modern times when riots and looting have arisen from the excuse of an overly heavy-handed state.

'Gynocentrism' – a perspective, either for or against, the prevalence of gender-based social movements and politics. Feminists viewing it as obviously central to a cause, whilst its detractors see it as creating social friction between the sexes and within the sexes. Differences between the sexes do indeed exists relative to innate psychology, but this difference may widen relative to age, social background and ethnic culture.

'Habitus' – derived from the Latin, meaning style of dress, disposition, comportment, attitude or character. Essentially, social codification. Used to describe the physical attributes and behaviour which encodes a certain cultural understanding relative to context. From the good manners to defer others (or lack of), to the 'give-away' signifiers such as: an overly extended little finger when drinking from a glass or cup, or the holding of a chilled white wine glass by the bowl. Effectively, the unconscious (and conscious) internalisation of social structures which appear spontaneous / natural but have been absorbed. Historically, invented by the higher ranks of European society, such behavior when 'naturalised in general personal disposition was named “sprezzatura".

[NB It may emerge that during possible continuation of a slow-growth west, that the importance of such 'habitus' may once again grows; especially amongst the well educated (notionally) upper middle class which now may be experiencing comparatively decreased wealth status; thus a renewed form of social snobbery, from whence it came].

'Heritage Industry' – term applied since the mid 1970s to describe the preservation of of sites deemed of historic and aesthetic interest which somehow enshrine an aspect of national heritage. Starting with preservation orders at the end of the C19th, latterly applied to the creation of industrial museums, event re-enactments and re-opening of bygone activities (eg steam railways). Opposing views see the widely varying process as either crucial to historical respect, a populist expression of nostalgia, or the 'Disneyfication' of the past. Nonetheless, an important aspect of the 'imagined community' and 'invented traditions' which underpins national identity.

'Hyper-Reality' – a term first deployed to describe the manner in which American museums and theme-parks are able to provide an illusion of absolute reality via holographs, 3-D dioramas and reproductions of original artworks. They represent a 'hyper-real' dimension in which the American imagination demands the real thing, and in order to attain it, fabricates the absolute fake. Hyper-real being the defining characteristic of Disneyland and Las Vegas: real fakes. Also argued as more real than real given the manner in which man-made objects can be operated to meet expectations, whereas nature does not conform to experiential desires and expectations.

[NB Now with reach far beyond the USA given the export of Disney and similar, the hyper-real is being adopted by museums and cultural organisations, such as Egypt's minutely accurate recreation of Tutankhamum's tomb, so that further tourist damage can be avoided to the original.
In consumerism, aspects of retrospective hyper-reality long seen in consumer products ranging from kitchen appliances to digital radios and cars (Plymouth Prowler, Plymouth Cruiser, New Mini, New Cinquecento, New Dodge Challenger, Morgan Aero8 and +4/+8*. (These also seen as interpretations of the auto-sector's own 'heritage industry', with Mini and Cinquecento now in their 3rd retro-evolved styles).* However seemingly ironic is the fact that the long-lived Morgan 4/4, whilst appearing hyper-real cannot be described as such given production continuation over the decades. Hence as a developed original it was not retro-designed].

J – K little exacting coverage within critical theory, so in the ironic post-modern manner, simply to say “bravo” to the musician and car enthusiast Jay Kay for his efforts against animal exploitation.

Part 2 of this weblog follows, providing the remainder of the A-Z listing of Critical Theory.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Summer Message #2 - 2015

Still today, some seven years on from the initial impact of the 'Great Recession', both the general public and responsible financially informed alike seek that a vital financial sector is regenerated as a very stable, trustworthy and long-lived hub of the nation's economy.

To this end, many have looked to the past, a past during which highly reputable, stake-holder centric entities flourished, alongside the older classical banking system.

This sentiment once again relayed by a contribution to the FT Weekend's letters page.

The letter from a Mr David Cole of Dunmow, Essex, UK is as follows:

“Dear Sir, Challenger banks? What nonsense.

So called 'challengers' are simply fledgling capitalists waiting to grow-up and repeat the same follies as the big boys. The last challengers were the building societies that demutualised and turned themselves into banks – look at what happened to them. Does anything better illustrate the poverty of our post-crash thinking?

Unless we encourage other models as part of a robust mix including mutuals and co-operatives, having a diversity of aims, values and ownerships, we will be stuck with a banking system driven by greed and short-terminism. The many will continue to enrich the few and we will be poorly served to face the next crisis”.

This undoubtedly the broad feeling across not only the UK, but North America and Europe also.

Although seemingly flippant, to this end, the core messages about responsible, fair and socially useful banking resonates from films from the past; 'It's a Wonderful Life' and 'Mary Poppins' prime examples.

But perhaps the most prosaic is that of the far lesser known 'The Card' (of 1952), adapted from a novel by Arnold Bennett and starring a young Alec Guinness.

The plot depicts the fictional life of Edward Henry Machin, known as Denry, starting out from humble beginnings he demonstrates drive, enthusiasm and daring, yet also reflects a social consciousness which with maturity and success also engenders humility; all of which balances his capitalist instinct and fervour for the general good of his locale, known as 'Five Towns'.

Starting out as a clerk he inverts problems into opportunities, initially acting as a rent collector and ethically inclined money-broker to the poor, on holiday recognising the opportunity to create a shipwreck tourist attraction using a cheaply bought part-wrecked rowing boat, recognises the local opportunity to create a 'thrift-society' with allied consumer credit-facility, grocery discounting and quality, enabled through economies of scale, and lastly enables the struggling town football team to secure a leading football player to turnaround its fortunes.

Critically though, where once his ambitions were purely personal, as he ages and gains success, his horizons widen with positions of increasing councillor and mayoral influence for the betterment of all.

The western world is today a very different place to the Victorian-Edwardian era of Mr Machin, yet more than ever, those ideals conveyed to 1950s Britain - itself then on a new path of socio-economic growth – are perhaps even more prescient.

Thus, investment-auto-motives applauds those who today  likewise seek to add true value(s) - the new generation of Denrys.

[NB But please be aware that there will be those, who having abused the trust of others to their own advantage, will espouse their supposed belief in social values, just to re-run their disingenuous modus operandi. See a person for their true nature and actions, shown in many small ways, not necessarily from their words].