Thursday, July 7, 2016

Masculine Modernity result of shorter, less tiring, work hours ?

Over the last hundred and fifty years, the work day for most of us in the West has gotten (a) much shorter (b) much less physically tiring and (c) much more financially rewarding.

And this in turn, has produced an ongoing crisis for those who used to have near-exclusive control over reproducing Western Hegemony : our (mostly male) rentier class.

(Note that I don't include all 'the rich' when I say rentier class --- it can be very hard work earning a high income via the hands-on running of a factory. I mean rentiers are those of the leisure class who live -and live well - from the income produced by sinecures, investments or land rents.)

Back in the 1850s, earning your daily bread, outside or inside the home, was so physically demanding and took up up so much of the day, that only a very tiny minority had the time, money and energy to spend on maintaining the existing hegemony that made that minority so privileged.

Obviously the too-poor and too-tired majority did even less to revise or seriously threaten that hegemony.

Most of the majority was too tired in fact to read, let alone write a newspaper article - even if they could have afforded to read any of the (deliberately highly taxed) publications.

Enter modernization : the unexpected consequences thrown up by the invention and introduction of more and more machines to supplement the work that humans and animals used to do alone.

Over time, twelve hour days and seven day weeks, pittance wages, and back breaking labour were replaced by 40 hour five day weeks, with much higher relative wages, and after far less physically demanding effort.

The majority now potentially had the time, energy and income to read about (and write about), even organize against and agitate about the minority that ran everything to their advantage.

Potentially only - because all this was depending on modernization's invention of machines being as successful among the 'tools of communication' as it had been among the potential receivers and senders of communication.

Once, to influence even as few as a mere hundred people, scattered all over a nation or continent, one had to write one hundred individual letters (or pay a copyist to make ninety nine copies) and then pay - literally - a small fortune to have them delivered far away.

And partly to my main point that modernization's machines so reduced physical labour as to free it up for hegemony-threatening activities, the mere daily act of writing of that many accurate copies, rapidly enough to be efficient, required extremely tiring physical effort, if only in the arms.

Printing presses, from the biggest down to even something as basic as the mimeo machine, when combined with very cheap, rapid and efficient mail services changed all that, particularly in the area of print communication and influence.

It was no easier trying to influence people by means of your voice instead of your pen, in the recent past.

In the era before radio, TV and news reels, in fact before microphones and PA systems, a speaking tour to agitate for change meant having the time & means to travel widely by slow stage coach, along with possessing a naturally strong piercing voice (that still wore out permanently, over time, from the stress of projecting your voice).

The travelling alone was almost as physically taxing as the effort to be heard and understood by large crowds.

Many people recall that making records, as recently as one hundred years ago, might mean recording the same song over and over in a studio all day long, each complete rendering before the acoustic horn becoming just one record for just one customer.

That took great physical strength, and only a few had the strength to have both a voice big enough and the sheer amounts of lung endurance that made a success of singing that same song before a half dozen acoustic horns at a time.

Few of us remember that once, if that same singing star wanted to give away even just forty publicity photos, they had to pose (bone still) for fifteen minutes for every single copy - a very tiring ten hour day to make just 40 early photographs.

Singers can be forever grateful for the pressing plants' large rooms, filled with women working record stampers, that could easily make 20,000 copies each eight hour shift , every day, forever, all alike, from a one time recording of a song.

Similarly, the ability to easily mass produce endless photos or movies from a single negative copy of a still photo or motion film made the physical work of both star and technician much much easier.

Negative copies of photo negatives and stamper copies of record stampers, both sent overseas through the mails, allowed factories all over the world to combine mass production with the ease of local distribution.

Mass produced newspaper, magazine and book soon had halftone reproductions of photos, bringing accurate and vivid images of the distant world to everyone, for a negligible cost.

Via the new penny dailies, that meant even the very bottom (and perhaps even illiterate) percentage of the population could easily view these images of a world far beyond their ability to travel, via a much passed around newspaper copy.

When producing multiple copies of words, images and sounds thus become much physically easier (and thus much cheaper), it also means that their customers needn't find the time, energy and money to travel great distances to hear and see people, actions and sounds in person.

Soon all this resulted in a circular feedback system between writer and reader.

Ordinary working class readers, a bit better off and a lot less tired by their labours than they used to be, working eight hours instead of twelve hours a day, finally had time to read and reflect upon the radical thoughts of once impossibly distant writers, writers then usually at least one social class above themselves.

Those thoughts from a writer two thousand miles away were now easily conveyed into their living room by cheap books and newspapers.

In response, some working class readers became writers in turn and sent forth their results out into the world via small print runs of pamphlets and low circulation journals.

All this resulted in stronger trade unions, in demands for votes for the working class, talk of socialism and anarchism -- all as a result of technology making both work less tiring and leisure activities like the reading and the writing of cheap pamphlets much cheaper.

Both effects of modernization's machines and technology (less tired workers and cheaper communication tools) worked to challenge the hegemony of the rentier class.

Women were also beginning to see that ready made foodstuffs, clothes and cleaning supplies made domestic activities a little bit less demanding of energy and time.

Other women were already entering totally new areas of the workforce, as machines made more and more work activities less physically demanding and requiring much less absolute strength.

That last requirement was especially a physical barrier, even with the best of laws supporting women's right to work at any job.

For if we still to 'hand puddled' all our iron and steel, almost no women (and very few men) would be able to lift and hammer 80 pound lumps of molten iron all day, over the course of twelve hour days and seven day weeks -- even the strongest puddlers rarely survived past their thirties.

Like all working class individuals, women of other classes now had the freed up time and energy to think new thoughts about women's rights ------- and the ease of communication to get those ideas widely talked up, again threatening the mostly male rentier class's previous hegemony.

Ditto for the writing and speaking out of a handful of middle class writers and activists, members of the poorest and most persecuted minorities, who again threatened the hegemony of the male (always white and often Protestant) rentier class.

This post isn't about to rehash the resulting push back from the 1890s elite against women, the working class, deviants, the handicapped, minorities, immigrants, radicals of all sorts - you know that already.

But I do want to look at an ignored aspect of that self conscious counter-reaction against these unexpected consequences of the unconscious actions of modernization.

Given that the modest physical effort required to be a successful rentier was no less in 1890 than it was in 1850, why were the rentiers so obsessed with hard sweating lower-class-like physical effort (sports, hunting, exploring, conquering) just when hard physical effort was rapidly decreasing in all the rest of society ?

I think that maintaining the western hegemony had actually always been dependent on near exclusive access to two things, one intellectual and the other physical and modernization's machines had opened up both to all.

I have already talked about the rentiers' once near exclusive access to the best and most expensive tools of communication.

But they once also had near exclusive access to the best and most expensive tools of physical violence.

In the bad old days, when violence was a hands on affair, the much better fed and much under-worked rentier (aristocracy) class were definitely taller and heaver than the underfed little peasants.

They also had the money to for suits of armour, large tall fast horses and long range weapons like lances together with swords made of the finest sharpest steel.

They could intimate both their peasants/employees and their spouses.

But violence gradually shifted away from the need to be both long armed and strong to best opponents in a sword fight.

Now the revolver was personal violence's great equalizer , with a small woman able to 'fire and forget' a lethal missile from a distance well beyond the reach of even the biggest man.

Disputes among the powerful in any case were no longer settled by physical jousts but rather in courtrooms where neither opponents could even speak directly to each other.

Instead their advocates, perhaps tiny weedy men or worse, a woman - jousted verbally in a situation where physical strength mattered not at all , compared to a quick intelligence and a great memory for the facts.

Similarly, the case of warfare, by the 1890s military leaders no longer needed to be particularly physical strong or even very fit.

No longer did they personally led relatively small armies, sword in hand, from on top of a horse in the very front lines.

Instead they plotted out their moves on a big map at a big HQ ten miles to the rear while hundreds of runners and telephone lines conveyed their orders to the extended frontline to the thousands of officers and hundreds of thousands of enlisted men of a modern mass army.

Death in war was increasingly arriving from shells hurled from thousands of yards away, directed by pesky little middle class officers with a good education in maths.

Anyone with intelligence could sense that the calvary, the key military role traditionally reserved for the rentier aristocracy, was increasingly become useless in modern war.

The hegemony of the rentier aristocracy was threatened on two fronts : their exclusive access to the intellectual and mechanical tools of hegemony-maintaining communication and their exclusive access to the most powerful forms of personal violence.

Their counter-attack on the communications front was to allow that anyone could, of course, speak on an issue, but that only experts - professionals - academics, with many years of highly expensive education at the best schools, had anything useful to say on any issue.

Post the 1840s, with its their Reform Acts and Corn Laws, the aristocracy realized that giving their eldest son the land or the other sons a career in the military or state church was no longer the best way to remain influential.

The unseemly rise of famous, much honored, wealthy untutored geniuses in science-oriented business was best repulsed by honoring meritocracy, in the breach.

Charles Darwin was an example of this : his social rise based on personal 'merit' wasn't hurt by his twenty five years worth of the world's best, most expensive, education.

So : tutors from birth before various expensive boarding schools, expensive scientific equipment as toys for hobbies, scientific Grand Tours, heavily subsidizing their children's unbroken attendance at the top universities from BSc to Post Doc fellowship.

Little wonder that even the well to do soon felt they could only 'afford' a few children !

Next, trial and error technology, despite all its useful and hopeful discoveries had to be dethroned from its currently exalted social standing.

Instead, Natural Philosophy, re-badged as basic-pure-fundamental-academic Science, had to be proclaimed as the key non-widget making activity, before technology could do its useful widget work.

(Ninety nine percent of the time, it is exactly the other way around : trial and error technology improves the instruments that allows basic science to see ever further or deeper or smaller vistas.)

All across the disciplines, basic (above the hoi polloi) researchers were exalted over the applied practitioners grubbing around with clients and customers.

Thus allowing the children of aristocrats of the world to move en masse and with the dignity appropriate to their station, off the land and into the better universities.

One of their first actions was in proclaiming a philosophy , Darwinism, that said science had proved that not all humans are equal, so don't listen, any longer, to the humanistic ideas from the less-equal humans like women, the working class, the colored races, etc.

But dealing with the fact that the most unique characteristic of males, their superior absolute strength, was becoming useless in the workplace or in situations of violence, was not so easily solved.

The solution, I suggest, was to escape into fantasy, fantasies expensive enough to again be restricted to the well-heeled and under-worked.

The rentier class invented social situations (games, sports, hobbies, vacations, even small wars) where the rules were arranged to appear to give superior physical strength and stamina (of well fed wealthy males) an advantage.

In fact, even here, machines crept in to ensure the game was fixed.

Teddy Roosevelt roughed it in the Dakota for a few months, spending half the time in New York City, all the while pretending to be a true pioneer rancher, albeit with tons of money to buy the best machinery - worked usually by his many hired hands.

He was never in any real danger from the elements, the Indians or starvation.

This in no way duplicated the sheer hard work of ordinary pioneers expending much hard labour instead of small fortunes of cash - yet he somehow got away with claiming he pioneered in a 'tougher' way than the lower classes were capable of.

Similarly he had a vast number of black servants to carry him in comfort and set up his kills, together with the best guns in existence, to shoot all the big animals he shot on his African safari.

He was never in any danger from big animals.

Many of the original explorers did starve to death or drown but by the 19th century, 'explorers' (not really finding anything truly unknown) generally went with lots of the best possible of equipment.

They were usually in little real danger from the elements. The Scott effort to the South Pole is famous precisely because it is the rare example of a well funded exploring effort going badly wrong.

Imperialism became a vast outdoor tame sport as huge rich advance nations selectively went after tiny bits of other continents with no access to advanced weaponry.

In this century, think of the 'wars' against Grenada and Panama.

Again, the Boer War, along with the later Vietnam and Afghanistan conflicts, show what can go wrong when fake wars turn real.

Boxing - a bloody but ultimately phoney conflict with fists - was heavily promoted by well to do males from the late 19th century onwards, despite the fact that few opponents from the real worlds of war or crime would be sporting to risk a standup boxing match when they could shoot you from a distance, safe behind a rock.

Similar with many early team sports - they were violent but because they needed expensive gear and expensive training facilities, only college kids could partake in this form of high status violence.

Feats that supposedly required high strength violence counted almost all women out, together with many underfed undersized men from the poorer classes.

If those supposed feats of strength also required lots of money or access to facilities that could be restricted to the elite, they could do a lot to restore a male well to do oriented hegemony.

No Negro or woman was ever going to get official US Navy support in the years between the 1880s and the 1980s, to lead an exploration effort towards the North Pole, for example.

WASP men simply had to be seen to be doing all the 'exciting' 'daring' 'bold' things in the desert, jungle, snows,etc to prove they should also exclusively run the culture of their own nations.

And to to think all of this began when machines began making the work of the poorest classes much easier ....

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