Law in Contemporary Society

Ghost Writer

-- By MeronWerkneh - 19 Feb 2016

I: The Seduction

“Culture [is]…a mere training to act as a machine…Your very ideas are but the outgrowth of the conditions of your bourgeois production and bourgeois property…”

-Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto

Social theorists and philosophers have devoted much of their careers to identifying the factors that influence society. Karl Marx asserted that the economic structure of society—controlled by the ruling class—provides the base from which society’s moral and cultural values are born. Additionally, in distinguishing class from status, Max Weber specified that although status can rest on class position, “it is not solely determined by it.” Rather, it is a group’s status—their “class situation,” defined by a common “style of life”—that gives them authority and cultural influence (Weber, 1978). The two theories overlap at the following point: a group creates culture, and society reflects that culture. The process can and does occur reciprocally (with culture reflecting the values and trends of society at a given moment), but the piece will focus on the “society reflects culture” formulation.

In The Folklore of Capitalism, Thurman Arnold discusses some of the commonalities of social organizations. The third element, of particular importance, is a set of “institutional habits” that allows men to work together “without any process of conscious choice” (Arnold, 1937). This could have been broken into two separate factors, listing both the presence of “institutional habits” and the absence of “conscious choice,” but their amensalistic relationship joins them enough to be listed together. “Institutional habits,” then, suggest that the actual patterns of practices prevalent in society are not that of society, but of the “institution.” This is done through a repeated process of “habit and acceptance,” where the habit is created, acceptance is covertly compelled, and dissent is ostracized (Arnold, 1937). In this, Arnold illuminates the concept of the illusion of free will. This ‘illusion’ is the hazy and hazardous area that separates and distinguishes the right to “the pursuit happiness” from the right to “happiness”; that separates the right of having a voice from the right of being heard; that suggests that, at the very core, man need not have an active choice, but be able to believe that he does.

Arnold suggests that these institutional habits become normalized without the knowledge or admission of man—that much is clear. But what exactly is the process through which this occurs? How is it that values become acculturated, embraced, and eventually pursued without the public’s involvement or assent? This is where culture makes its re-entry; the ruling collective uses culture to lubricate the process of forcing consent, adorning the invasive procedure enough to make the choice seem deliberate and more appealing.

Central to this conditioning is the process of manufacturing consent. Noam Chomsky expands on the modes and mechanisms of this process in his book, stating that it was “clear that the media serve the ends of a dominant elite” (Chomsky, 1992). Today, media has become interchangeable with culture, particularly with the ubiquity of electronics that facilitate the process of social validation (think: Twitter [where to become an instant-activist] or CNN [where to find the ‘news’]). So, in pushing an agenda, the process is less of a force-feed and more like an airplane spoon (which puts the public somewhere in between a prisoner and an infant). Culture is a necessary component to the process because it reinforces feelings of group identity and belonging—which provides a sense of security—and caters to the ever-present human ego.

II: Denouement

“A hibernation is a covert preparation for a more overt action.”

-Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

In order to recognize and reclaim your individual agency, you must, at some point, be absent. This absence—or period of decreased visibility/invisibility—is necessary because it engenders an increasing self-awareness that will eventually allow you to distinguish between manufactured consent, and genuine consent. Invisibility allows you to forge out a space either psychically or physically (or in many cases, both) where you are able to reintroduce yourself to your own mind, beliefs, and your own visceral and essential needs free from the contamination of “institutional habits” and cultures. The conclusion is paradoxical but quite simple: in order to see yourself, you must become invisible.

Hopefully, during this absence, your gaze—once glued to the flashing lights—will turn inward and yield a truly intensive introspection where you emerge feeling like your actually know yourself (and maybe even like yourself). Knowing who you are is inseparable from knowing what you want, necessary in the process of giving genuine consent. Without this, you will not be able to distinguish actual rights from illusory rights. The right to have, from the right to chase. Making conscious choices requires consciousness, which is bound with reflection and genuine self-awareness. To surrender this would be to surrender your agency, which is, whether conscious of it or not, an indispensable part of what makes us not only individuals, but human.

This is clearer, and more closely reasoned, thereby much improved. But the draft still feels to me much of process and little of performance. Is the conclusion really that "making conscious choices requires consciousness" or that this is "bound with ... genuine self-awareness"? It seems like rather more mechanism than the outcome required.


Arnold, T. W. (1937). The folklore of capitalism. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Ellison, R. (1995). Invisible man. New York: Vintage International.

Herman, E. S., & Chomsky, N. (1988). Manufacturing consent: The political economy of the mass media. New York: Pantheon Books.

Marx, K., & Rjazanov, D. B. (1930). The Communist Manifesto.

Weber, M. (1978). Economy and society. Berkeley: Univ. of California Pr.


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r4 - 09 Jun 2016 - 16:19:14 - EbenMoglen
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