Elites take criticism very badly.

November 8, 2011

Today, the term courtesan has become a euphemism to designate an escort or a prostitute, especially one who attracts wealthy clients.

Apart from their self-assurance, the most common characteristics of our elites are cynicism, rhetoric and the worship of both ambition and power. These were also the characteristics of eighteenth-century courtesans. The assumption is that the world-weary-cynicism demonstrates intellectual superiority. In reality it indicates neither intelligence, experience nor accuracy. If anything, it demonstrates mediocrity and an inability to profit from experience. To be world-weary is to be willing to go on repeating old mistakes. p.580

I am invariably struck when dealing with members of our elites by their profound  pessimism. Above all, they are pessimistic about the human character. They consider it unlikely that the average individual will work hard enough or recognize beauty or vote for the best policies or even obey in a suitable manner. They take as a given that this individual cannot or will not understand the complexities of whatever responsibilities fate has thrust upon someone who has expertise and power. p. 582

– from the chapter, The Virtue of Doubt, Voltaire’s Bastards, John Ralston Saul

List of Prostitutes and Courtesans

[O]ur élite is primarily and increasingly managerial. A managerial élite manages. A crisis, unfortunately, requires thought. Thought is not a management function.

 – Reflections of a Siamese Twin

 

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Is it time to retire Ronald, fast food’s Joe Camel?

April 19, 2010

All campaigns end.

These articles suggest the Ronald McDonald, like Joe Camel, has worn out his welcome:

  1. Group: Time for Ronald McDonald to retire
  2. Can Ronald McDonald be forced into early retirement?
  3. Corporate Accountability International poll shows Ronald McDonald contributes to obesity epidemic

John Ralston Saul defines the clown in line with the emerging understanding of junk food as an addiction (see The Doubter’s Companion: A Dictionary of Aggressive Common Sense.)

RONALD McDONALD

Post-modern philosopher. In somewhat the same way that Voltaire was the public intellectual face of the Enlightenment, Ronald McDonald is the face of and voice of consumer culture.

The moral underpinning of this movement is addiction. The philosophical dilemma proposed by the phrase “fast food” is: how fast can the seller make the buyer buy more?

..It (desire for more) is based not on hunger but on the illusion of hunger. Science, however, has contributed a better understanding of three key elements capable of accentuating that illusion: salt, grease and sugar.

It’s chemistry, stupid.

Salt, somewhat like monosodium glutamate, attacks the taste receptors on the tongue and excites them. If grease is combined with the salt, a chemical reaction is provoked which accentuates this excitement, which in turn translates into a meaningful simulation of hunger. The further addition of sugar will then provoke an abrupt rise in blood-sugar levels. As on a roller-coaster this can only be followed by an abrupt fall, which takes the form of a yet more extreme sensation of weakness and hunger. At this point fast food, through the ingenious use of basic science, comes close to reconstituting the old religious marriage (in fact a philosophical tension) between desire and fear.

Indeed, with a new outlet opening somewhere in the world every eighteen minutes, Ronald McDonald may be the most successful scientist/philosopher since Albert Einstein. A suitable heir-apparent to Mickey Mouse.

A philosopher-king.

The king may be dead.

Long live the king?


Why being a franchise writer should make you damn nasty

April 16, 2010

My goal is to understand franchising, not to be loved.

To contribute to public knowledge. To share insights and to encourage others to do the same.

Being “nice” is irrelevant.

In Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West, John Ralston Saul presents what a writer’s job is.

VOLTAIRE: “That nasty man who did so much good.” Paul Valéry

Is it because Voltaire wasn’t afraid to be nasty that he did so much good? Almost certainly. There is no convincing evidence that writers can do their job by being nice.

And why should they be nice? To be asked to dinner? To be part of a corporation of writers, which like all corporate groups rewards discretion? To be rewarded with money, prizes and titles?

Nice writers are usually working for someone or senile or in the wrong business. Those who have done the most good as Voltaire prointed out, have “mostly been persecuted.” The nasty sort continue to be persecuted in most countries. In the West they have to deal with more sophisticated assaults such as bankrupting lawsuits and job loss. Worst of all – in this society of expensive communication systems – they are threatened with irrelevance…

What is left for writers to do?

Their only job is to make language work for the reader. that is the basis of free speech. Whatever the vested interests of the day may be, they invariably favour an obscure language of insider’s dialects and received wisdom. So the writer turns nasty. It’s a public service.

Dr. Saul is president of International PEN: Promoting literature. Protecting freedom of expression.


Unsustainable Levels of Debt by John Ralston Saul

April 13, 2010

Got crushing personal or national debt?

Is enslavement and stagnation the only answer?

Not necessarily.

John Ralston Saul suggests in his 1994 book that both private and public debt can be dealt with in creative ways.

I quote at length on his one section but encourage everyone to read this and Saul’s other work.

UNSUSTAINABLE LEVELS OF DEBT

National debts are treated today as if they were unforgiving gods with the power to control, alter and if necessary destroy a country. This financial trap is usually presented as if it were peculiar to our time, as well as being a profound comment on the profligate habits of the population. The reality may be less disturbing.

1. The building up of unsustainable debt loads is a commonplace in history. There are several standard means of resolving the problem: execute the lenders, exile them, default outright or simply renegotiate to achieve partial default and low interest rates.

2. There is no example of a nation become rich by paying its debts.

3. There are dozens of examples of nations becoming rich by defaulting or renegotiating. This begins formally in the sixth century BC with Solon taking power in debt-crippled Athens. His organization of general default – “the shaking off of the burdens” – set the city-state on its road to democracy and prosperity. The Athens which is still remembered as the central inspiration of WESTERN CIVILIZATION was the direct product of a national default. One way or another most Western countries, including the United States, have done the same thing at some point. Most national defaults lead to sustained periods of prosperity.

4. The non-payment of debts carried no moral weight. The only moral standards recognized in Western society as being relevant to lending are those which identify profit made from loans as a sin. Loans themselves are mere contracts and therefore cannot carry moral value.

5. As all businessmen know, contracts are to be respected whenever possible. When not possible, regulations exist to aid default or renegotiation. Businessmen regularly do both and happily walk away.

The collapse of the Reichmann financial empire – larger than most countries – is a recent example. The family was able to turn around, walk away and almost immediately begin a new life, promoting the biggest property development in the history of Mexico.

6. There are no general regulations dealing with the financial problems of nations simply because they are themselves the regulatory authority. There is however well-established historical precedent. Mexico effectively defaulted in 1982-83, thus regenerating its economy. The reaction of Western lenders has been to treat these crises as special cases. The sort of thing that only happens to Third World countries. That’s nonsense.

7. The one major difference between private and public debt is that the public sore cannot be based upon real collateral. This makes default a more natural solution to unviable situations.

The question of national collateral was fully addressed in the eighteenth century when it became clear that an indebted people could not owe their national rights (their land and property) to a lender. The citizen’s natural and concrete rights took precedence over the lender’s abstract rights.

One of the most peculiar and insidious aspects of twentieth-century CORPORATISM has been an attempt to reverse this precedence. The managerial imperative suggests that national debts can be indirectly collateralized in several ways. Governments can be forced to sell national property to pay debts (PRIVATIZATION). They can also be pressed to transfer ownership of national property to lenders, as has been done in the Third World.

There is also the threat that defaulting nations will be treated as international pariahs. This is a strange argument since it doesn’t apply in the private sector (see 5). It is also an idle threat, as Mexico has demonstrated (see 6).

8. Debts – both public and private – become unsustainable when the borrower’s cash flow no longer handily carries the interest payments. Once a national economy has lost that rate of cash flow, it is unlikely to get it back. The weight of the debt on the economy makes it impossible.

9. A nation cannot make debts sustainable by cutting costs. Cuts may produce marginal savings, but savings are not cash flow. This is another example of the alchemist’s temptation.

Mrs. Thatcher spent a decade trying to slash the British national debt. She had the advantage of being able to use North Sea oil income for this purpose. The result was a damaged industrial sector, economic stagnation and endemic unemployment.

The payment of debts is a negative process which can only be a drain on investment and growth. The more successful major repayment programs are, the more the economy will be damaged.

10   Strong nations weaken their own economies by forcing weaker ones to maintain unsustainable debt-levels. For example, in spite of enormous efforts on all sides, the Third World debt has continued to grow. In 1993 it was $1.6 trillion. This costs them far more in interest payments sent to the West than the West sends in aid. The practical effect is to make economic growth impossible. The Third World thus constitutes a dead weight in our ongoing DEPRESSION; a barrier to renewed cash flow

11. Civilizations which become obsessed by sustaining unsustainable debt-loads have forgotten the basic nature of money. Money is not real. It is a conscious agreement on measuring abstract value. Unhealthy societies often become mesmerized by money and treat it as if it were something concrete. The effect is to destroy the currency’s practical value.

12. An obsession with such false realities and with deb t repayment indicates a liner, narrow managerial approach to economics. The management of an economy is the profession of finance-department technocrats, economists and bankers. Their approach is quite naturally one of continuity. This is a means of denying failure.

To treat money or debt as a contractual matter – therefore open to non-payment or to renegotiation – would mean treating the managerial profession as of secondary importance and unrelated to fundamental truths. What sensible people might see as originality or practicality, fiancnial expers see as a threat to their professional self-pride.

13. Does all of this mean that governments should default on their national debt? Not exactly.

What it does mean is that we are imprisoned in a linear and managerial approach which denies reality, to say nothing of experience. Money is first a matter of imagination and second of fixed agreements on the willing suspension of disbelief.

In other words, it is possible to approach the debt problem in quite different ways.

14. There have been changes which limit our actions in comparison to those of Solon or Henry IV, who negotiated his way out of an impossible debt situation in the early seventeenth century and re-established prosperity. First we have to recognize and protect the investment made by citizens directly (government bonds) and indirectly (bank deposits) in the financing of national debts. Second, there is the new and unregulated complexity of the international MONEY MARKETS, which now constitutes an important corporatist element.

15. Our central problem is one of approach. For two decades governments have been instructing economists and finance officials to come up with ways in which the debt can be paid down and interest payments maintained.

No one has instructed them to propose methods for not paying the debt and not maintaining interest payments. No one has asked them to use their creativity in place of a priori logic.

16. Were the members of the Group of Seven (G7) each to pool their economists and give them a month to come up with modern versions of default, we might be surprised by the ease with which practical proposals would appear.

17. There are two simple guiding points:
A. The appearance of continuity is easily achieved in default scenarios through paper mechanisms which can be categorized as “debt retirement.”
B. What is difficult for a single country in contemporary circumstances is easy for a group, particularly if that group speak for the developed world. See: ETHICS.

The Doubter’s Companion: A Dictionary of Aggressive Common Sense, John Ralston Saul.


Corporatism v. Democracy: What concept really won WWII?

April 8, 2010

Franchising degrades humans.

I use World War II images for a reason.

I think democratic societies won the battles but lost the war against totalitarianism. The tyrants wear business casual.

John Ralston Saul has made an important contribution to my thinking by writing The Doubter’s Companion: A Dictionary of Aggressive Common Sense.

One of his key definitions:

CORPORATISM

Among the most important yet most rarely used words. Better than any other it describes the organization of modern society.

Corporatism is the persistent rival school of representative government. In place of the democratic idea of individual citizens who vote, confer legitimacy and participate to the best of their ability, individuals in the corporatist state are reduced to the role of secondary participants. They belong to their professional or expert groups – their corporations – and the state is run by ongoing negotiations between those various interests. This is the natural way of organizing things in a civilization based on expertise and devoted to the exercise of power through bureaucratic structures…

The surface argument of corporatism has always been that democracy is inefficient, ineffective, corrupting, subject to whims and emotions. Corporatism, on the other hand, presents itself as professional and responsible. It promises to deliver prosperity by helping those who know how to do their jobs properly and in concert…

Note:

The Second World War was about many things, but at its heart is was a battle between two concepts of civilization – the one based on individualism and democracy, and the other one corporatist authoritarianism. Theoretically the democratic individualists won.

Yet since 1945 corporatism has advanced with even greater strength and now has a real hold on day-to-day power.

Somehow we seem to have lost World War II after all…

What makes modern franchising most offensive (to me) is its corruption of mom-and-pops’ individual labour and basic human rights (speech, association). It produces serious and long-lasting physical, mental, spiritual and ethical disease (dis-ease).

Franchising is not alone and may not even the most severe but this but this is an area I know about, so this is why I write.


Empire of Illusion, Chris Hedges: The Death of God & franchise propaganda

August 24, 2009

EmpireofIllusionThe title caught my eye.

Is franchising an empire built on brand-induced self-delusion?

If it is, then it appears to be just one in our post-modern world where any means justify the economic ends. So says a Pulitzer Prize winner, anyway.

The first chapter (The Illusion of Literacy) starts off with a bang. A quote from one of my favourite thinkers, John Ralston Saul that I’ve mentioned before (1., 2., 3., & 4.).

I especially like his contrary opinions about expertise: see Experts? We don’t need no stinkin’ professionals. Franchise law is an example of the hollowed-out perfection of the expert literate man.

Hedges lifts this quote from Saul’s 1992 book, Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West:

Now the death of God combined with the perfection of the image has brought us to a whole new state of expectation. We are the image. We are the viewer and the viewed. There is no other distracting presence. And that image has all the Godly powers. It kills at will. Kills effortlessly. Kills beautifully. It dispenses morality. Judges endlessly. The electronic image is man as God and the ritual involved leads us not to a mysterious Holy Trinity but back to ourselves. In the absence of a clear understanding that we are now the only source, these images cannot help but return to the expression of magic and fear proper to idolatrous societies. This in turn facilitates the use of the electronic image as propaganda by whoever can control some part of it.

Again: …the use of the electronic image as propaganda by whoever can control some part of it.

Case in Point: A new television show named How’d You Get So Rich? features, of all players in this drama, a franchisee attorney (YouTube). This “news” is then picked up the industry-financed social media apologists, not just once, but twice.

Nothing says sincere, honest and authentic in both a visual and journalist sense, as the two words together: Joan Rivers. Celebrity spokespeople have been used in franchising brand management for a long time but sometimes it’s a double-edged sword.

Is this a too cynical interpretation of this type of modern myth-making?

Humble but poor outsider +  scrub toilets + Harvard MBA/law + In Communion with the holy American Church of Franchising = A Saint’s story (millionaire, cars, 2nd wife, fame).

I wonder what the majority of mom-and-pop franchise investors would like to say to Mr. Zarco? Is he their champion of the underdog? Does his story reflect this people’s:

  1. life reality or
  2. is this just another in a long line of cheesy attempts to lure more life savings into a dying empire, noteworthy since this is an unbelievably desperate economic/employment times?

An inspiring story on a marketing and franchising level.

And personally, to me anyways.


Writers: Making language work for the reader

January 15, 2009

voltaire2VOLTAIRE

“That nasty man who did so much good.”

Paul Valéry

Is it because Voltaire wasn’t afraid to be nasty that he did so much good? Almost certainly. There is no convincing evidence that writers can do their job by being nice.

And why should they be nice? To be asked to dinner? To be part of a corporation of writers, which like all corporate groups rewards discretion? To be rewarded with money, prizes and titles?

Nice writers are usually working for someone or senile or in the wrong business. Those who have done the most good, as Voltaire pointed out, have “mostly been persecuted.” The nasty sort continue to be persecuted in most countries. In the West they have to deal with more sophisticated assaults such as bankrupting lawsuits and job loss. Worst of all – in this society of expensive communication systems – they are threatened with irrelevance.

What about their messy lives, their greed, their jealousies, their hypocrisy? Who cares? Voltaire himself had a more than average number of flaws and contradictions. He still created the language which ended a regime…

Their only job is to make language work for the reader. That is the basis for free speech. Whatever the vested interests of the day may be, they invariably favour an obscure language of insider’s dialects and received wisdom. So the writer turns nasty. It’s a public service.

— excerpt from The Doubtger’s Companion: A Dictionary of Aggressive Common Sense, John Ralston Saul

The franchise industry has made me a writer. For better or worse, I am that: I can do nothing other than type. And no one is more surprised than me.

I consider what I do to be a public service. I have created an index method for a U.S. $1 trillion per year industry, created an institutional memory of any published article and broken the back of those that enable this modern tyranny.

By any measure I have paid the price and more. I am indebted to no one. I am a free man and choose to associate with others who value freedom.

The time of reckoning coming quickly.

😉


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