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Five Things: The Commodification of Violence


We specialize in small orders.

1. The Commodification of Violence; or, We Specialize in Small Orders

There's much violence in the news these days. So much, in fact, that a certain commodification of it is required to win my attention. Muggings, shootings, bombings, armed robberies, thuggish boot stomps, the list goes on and on.

And so who can bother? It's like trying to count STYROFOAM™ packing peanuts in a blizzard.

No, I have no time for cheap, run-of-the-mill violence. These days -- like most Americans, I suspect -- I require my violence to carry with it a commercial attachment, some sense of fiscal purpose; that is to say, an assigned economic value, preferably something worthy of being stamped with a logotype, so that my consumption of it will confer on me the status I so richly deserve.

This isn't the kind of thing that normally occurs to someone while shopping for high-powered supermagnets - the kind used for steering nuclear particles in accelerators or levitation devices, magnetic beam amplifiers or scrap iron separators. For one thing, most normal people have no use for such tools in the first place, or at least no intention of using them for anything other than their intended purpose.

But I am not most people. And when I discover, even by accident, that -- for less than the price of 2 hours at an airport lounge -- I can obtain magnets of such ferocious high power that carrying one into a room can result in a fatal skull fracture, well... count me in.

"Of all the unique items we offer for sale, we consider these items the most dangerous of all."
- United Nuclear Corp., "We Specialize in Small Orders"

Bear Stearns said pretty much the same thing - "We specialize in small orders" - and of all the complex financial instruments we traffic in, we consider these items, credit default swaps perhaps, the most dangerous of all. And still, look what happened.

It's because we have barely a millennium or two's practice at walking upright that such dire warnings are in reality hoary sales pitches. "Why would I want the safe magnets? Give me the most dangerous ones you got. And overnight them. I'm important and in a hurry."

"Two supermagnets can very easily get out of control, crush fingers and instantly break ribs or even your arm if opposing poles fly at each other"
- United Nuclear Corp., "We Specialize in Small Orders"

Which is what makes them so alluring. Any magnet that can't crush fingers or break an arm is no magnet worth having. We understand this intuitively. Even though "we" have no real use for magnets beyond the very possibility of dancing around a situation that just might, on a strange night, result in a hideously crushed and disfigured arm.

"A small child recently lost his hand when his father left two # 31 supermagnets unattended. The child picked one up and when he approached the other magnet on a nearby table,
it became airborne and obliterated his small hand."

- United Nuclear Corp., "We Specialize in Small Orders"

See, that's salesmanship, friends. Small orders, indeed.

2. The Financialization of Consciousness

I'm not really sure where I was going with all that except by way of an introduction to these assembled remarks by writer Joe Bageant, author of Deer Hunting With Jesus.

"This financialization of our consciousness under American style capitalism has become all we know. That's why we fear its loss. Hence the bailouts of the thousands of "zombie banks," dead but still walking, thanks to the people's taxpayer offerings to the money god so that banks will not die. We believe that we dare not let corporations die.

"Corporations feed us. They entertain us. Corporations occupy one full half of our waking hours of our lives, through employment, either directly or indirectly. They heal us when we are sick. So it's easy to see why the corporations feel like a friendly benevolent entity in the larger American consciousness. Corporations are, of course, deathless and faceless machines, and have no soul or human emotions. That we look to them for so much makes us a corporate cult, and makes corporations a fetish of our culture. Yet to us, they are like the weather just there."

The piece is long, but well worth the time spent reading it. The section above explains why we continue to bailout zombie banks. Because we fear, irrationally, their demise. At one point has anyone been able to successfully articulate what, if anything, would happen if we allowed banks to die? Think about that.
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