I believe most people who will read this are fully familiar with the “point deer, make horse” story from Chinese antiquity, but if not then this post will provide some background. The reason I bring this up is that I have been reading a lot about philanthropic foundations roles in the background of the much publicised anti-apartheid struggle, and it seems to me that if you place their behaviour in a very different anthropological interpretation a number of oddities clear up. The main oddity that struck me was the role played by the publication of a giant study called South Africa: Time Running Out. There is an interesting book review from 1981 in the New York Times Book Review which gives a glimpse into this study, the author writes:
THIS hefty book is less interesting for what it says than for what it represents. It provides a careful view of the turmoil of South Africa and considers the proper policy of the United States toward it. Coming from a journalist or historian, the text would have seemed turgid and often platitudinous.
But this is the report of the Study Commission on U.S. Policy established by the Rockefeller Foundation in 1977. Its chairman was Franklin Thomas, the president of the Ford Foundation. The commission’s principal advisers included G.A. Costanzo, vice chairman of the board of Citibank, and William Sneath, chairman of the board of Union Carbide Corporation, as well three prominent former senior Government officials: Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and Cyrus Vance, and Donald McHenry, former United States Ambassador to the United Nations. The commissioners were industrialists, academics and a labor unionist. With this kind of backing and membership, the commission’s findings are little short of sensational.
Now, there are some interesting things to be said about the role of corporations in social justice (read the comments from the Citibank director on businesses role in social justice in the review) but we will concentrate hard on anthropology here.
In liberal anthropology this is all just noise, which is why only Gramscians have any understanding of the role of foundations. We are all sovereign individuals, and this just all kind of happens because each actor has a rational self-interest (never really explained) to engage with this process. So Kissinger would have his interest, Costanzo would have his etc. You can see how Marx is a step up from this simplistic model by claiming the individual’s economic environment, or class, would provide the setting for this interest; a case of actually providing a context for this interest to be comprehensible. Workers would have worker interests, company owners would have company owner interests etc. We don’t really get anywhere with any of this because it places this individual rational self-interest at its base. In addition, economic class has failed as an explanatory system for this interest. Marx kind of represents the theoretical end point of liberalism in this sense.
From a neoabsolutist position, we can look at this all again from a brand new direction by using two guiding principles. The first principle is that humans are intrinsically hierarchical beings that have exceptional abilities to sense hierarchies and organise accordingly. The second is that following the first principle, a sovereign is always present.
What the report represents if you look at it through a hierarchical lense is the dissemination of the sovereigns will. All other lesser elites clearly understood this implicitly as the book found its way onto every corporate CEO’s bookshelf according to Korey in Taking on the World’s Repressive Regimes. We see this mechanism a lot. We saw it with gay marriage, we saw it with the Iraq War, it is a factor of human behaviour. We note where authority is, and when it sends a message, we understand implicitly. Our elites, being deranged with liberalism and power conflict on one level don’t believe any of this, but on another practical level, they know it implicitly. When a shift is in question, a collection of elites are used as a figure head to impart the message that the king has spoken. Society being organised, and only possibly being organised on the presence of a sovereign, naturally adjusts. It is only in liberal, and liberal like regimes such as communism, that this mechanism takes on an obvious and disturbing character when the commandments coming down to which we orientate to, take on Kafkaesque characteristics. Liberal regimes have to conduct this process in a very thuggish way as a result of the violation of sanity which their bizarre power conflict derived policies represent. Even the reviewer kind of gives this mechanism away when he writes:
“The commissioners were industrialists, academics and a labor unionist. With this kind of backing and membership, the commission’s findings are little short of sensational.”