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image-for-monsour-2-370x230LUMPENPROLETARIAT    Doctoral candidate Mitch Monsour lays out a devastating, yet compassionate, analysis of the dominant (western) culture’s behaviour-thought-feeling (BTF) patterns.  One may be reminded of Veblen‘s analysis of human behaviour.  Monsour cites Robert Putnam‘s Bowling Alone, Edward Bernays, Erich Fromm, and more.  One thing we wish Mitch would’ve delved into was the role of capital, perhaps a reading of Marx and Marxian analysis would strengthen and flesh out his arguments.  But this is still a fascinating discussion, even without the benefit of Marxian analysis.  It’s largely consistent with your author’s training in economics, psychology, and sociology.  And it’s consistent with some of our personal experiences and observations.  Listen (or download) here. [1]



AGAINST THE GRAIN—[9 NOV 2015]  Is a romantic partner a replacement for the community that people used to rely on to meet their material and emotional needs? Mitch Monsour thinks so; he points to the competitive and individualistic nature of our society, the way economic rationality gets enacted in the romantic arena, and the structural obstacles to real intimacy.

Learn more at AGAINST THE GRAIN.


[Working draft transcript of actual radio broadcast by Messina for Lumpenproletariat and Against the Grain.]

AGAINST THE GRAIN—[9 NOV 2015]  “Today, on Against the Grain:  Is a romantic partner a replacement for the community, that people used to rely upon for their material and psychological needs?  Mitch Monsour thinks so.  He points to, both, the competitive and individualistic nature of our society and the many structural obstacles to real, interpersonal, intimacy.  I’m C.S. Soong.  The University of Oregon Ph.D. student joins me after these news headlines from Aileen Alfandary.  [1]  (c. 5:45)

[KPFA News Headlines (read by Aileen Alfandary) omitted by scribe]

C.S. SOONG:  “From the studios of KPFA in Berkeley, California.  This is Against the Grain on Pacifica Radio.  My name is C.S. Soong.  What happens, as social isolation increases, as people more and more keep to themselves.  Yes, they do turn inward.  But they, also, according to my guest Mitch Monsour, turn toward an ideal, an ideal of romantic love.  Romantic love promises that we will get most, or all, of our needs met by another person, by our romantic partner.  And, so, we strive with all our might to find that special someone.  But what if, as Monsour argues, we lack the ability to create intimate, mutually supportive relationships?  Not because we’re flawed in some fundamental sense, but because economic rationality and commodification and a range of other factors affect and distort the way we pursue and maintain romantic relationships.

“Mitch Monsour is a doctoral candidate in the Sociology Department at the University of Oregon.  And his dissertation has the title, “Together and Alone: Intimacy and Alienation in the Age of Hyperindividualism”.  When Mitch Monsour joined me from a studio at the University of Oregon, I asked him what studies have shown about how socially-isolated people in the U.S. are and are becoming.”

MITCH MONSUR:  “There’s actually not a lot of research on social isolation.  There should be more, I think, ‘cos I think it’s a pressing social issue.  But one of the main works I cited in the article is Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone.  And he, basically, looked at data on civic participation from the ’50s and ’60s until about 2000 when he published the book.  And what he found was that in all areas of social life, Americans had sort of retreated from the public view.

“So, they stopped participating in community organisations, volunteering, engaging in private social functions.  Going to a friend’s house and playing cards would be a common thing, that maybe people maybe did at one point in time.  And the reason that the book is titled Bowling Alone is that it used to be where people would bowl in leagues.  And that was sort of a common thing. In fact, my parents did that when I was younger.  I remember that.  And, today, people still bowl.  But they bowl alone.  So, they go with a couple friends; and they shoot a few games.  And that’s it, instead of bowling in leagues and being a part of something.  (c. 8:18)

“So, in every area, basically, people have retreated from public life and, sort of, spent more time with less and less people.  And more time, also, with individual electronic entertainment like television.  And, now, we have the internet.  People have smart-phones, which he doesn’t go into because it was published in 2000.

“And there’s another work, that was published in 2004, I believe, looking at social network sizes.  And the authors found that—I forget the authors’ names for the moment—but the author’s found that the average network size, the amount of people, that your average person would interact with is actually significantly decreased in recent years, in the last few decades and that, also, people perceive themselves as more alone.  So, that they feel they have less people that they could confide in in important matters.  That’s the measure, that they used in their study.  So, people are more physically isolated—you know—looking at Putnam’s work.  And they’re also feeling more isolated, as a result.”  (c.  9:19)  []  (c. 50:51)

C.S. SOONG:  “We’ve been talking a lot about romantic love and, specifically, about obstacles to intimate, mutually-supportive relationships.  And, on that topic, one might point to—and you do in your dissertation—to the psychoanalyst and philosopher Erich Fromm.  What did he have to say about, kind of, the fundamental aspects of love that might give us some guidance on where we want to head, as opposed to, maybe, where we are headed?”

MITCH MONSOUR:  “From, basically, talks about, in his book, The Art of Loving, which was partly a social analysis, partly kind of a self-help manual.  It was published, originally, in the ’50s.  And it’s quite brilliant.  I suggest anyone, you know, take the time to read it, if they have the time.  But he talks about:  What is love in its general sense beyond romantic love?  What is love for another human being?  And he breaks it down into four interdependent characteristics that you cannot have true love without all four of these things operating at some level.  For one thing, he talks about care, which is the idea that you have active concern for the wellbeing of the other.  You want them to thrive.  You want them to grow.  You want them to be happy.

“He also talks about responsibility.  He also talks about responsibility.  And this is very key and something, obviously, lacking in a lot of our relationships today.  The idea that you have an obligation to the wellbeing of the other person.  So, not only do you care about them, you feel concern for the person, but you feel a moral responsibility, an obligation towards their wellbeing, regardless of what you’re actually receiving in return.

“Another aspect is respect.  So, this talks about the idea that you see the person, as their own unique individual, that they have their own thoughts, their own goals, their own needs, that might be different from yours.  And it, sort of, guards against the idea of a dependency, so you don’t wanna control the person.  You wanna give them their own independence, their own agency.  You wanna help them achieve that at some level.  You don’t want them to be dependent upon you or put them in a position where you can control them.  (c. 53:06)

“And, finally, he talks about knowledge, which is a deeper understanding of the individual.  So, it’s, you know, usually, when people think they understand their partner, they’re like:  Oh, they like this type of food and this type of music.  And these are their general behavioural patterns.  But what Fromm was talking about with knowledge, is much deeper.  He’s, basically, saying, you know:  To the best of your ability, you want to understand how the person thinks.  You wanna see the world through their eyes to the extent that you can.  No one can ever truly do that, but that’s the sort of goal.”  [2]

Learn more at AGAINST THE GRAIN.

[This transcript will be expanded as time constraints, and/or demand or resources, allow.]


[1]  This is a rough sketch.  I hope to share more thoughts on this as time constraints allow.  For example, it’s fascinating how Mitch’s analysis academically confirms many of my (and many others’) favorite lyrics from Morrissey, The Smiths, The Cure, Pet Shop Boys.  Morrissey, in particular, has built a canon of songs, which have been celebrated by loyal fans, yet derided by the larger dominant culture.  Cf.:

I’m OK By Myself” by Morrissey

A Little Respect” by Erasure

Love is a bourgeois construct” by Pet Shop Boys

I’ve been taking my time for a long time
Putting my feet up a lot
Speaking English as a foreign language
any words that I haven’t forgot
I’ve been thinking how I can’t be bothered
to wash the dishes or remake the bed
What’s the point when I could doss instead?

I’ve been hanging out with various riff-raff
somewhere on the Goldhawk Road
I don’t think it’s gonna be much longer
’til I’m mugging up on the penal code
Love is a bourgeois construct
so I’ve given up on the bourgeoisie
Like all their aspirations, it’s a fantasy

When you walked out you did me a favour
you made me see reality
that love is a bourgeois construct
It’s a blatant fallacy
You won’t see me with a bunch of roses
promising fidelity
Love doesn’t mean a thing to me

Talking tough and feeling bitter
but better now it’s clear to me
that love is a bourgeois construct
so I’ve given up the bourgeoisie

While the bankers all get their bonuses
I’ll just get along with what I’ve got
Watching the weeds in the garden
Putting my feet up a lot
I’ll explore the outer limits of boredom
moaning periodically
Just a full-time, lonely layabout
that’s me

When you walked out you did me a favour
It’s absolutely clear to me
that love is a bourgeois construct
just like they said at university
I’ll be taking my time for a long time
with all the schadenfreude it’s cost
calculating what you’ve lost

Now I’m digging through my student paperbacks
Flicking through Karl Marx again
Searching for the soul of England
Drinking tea like Tony Benn
Love is just a bourgeois construct
so I’m giving up the bourgeoisie
until you come back to me

Talking tough and feeling bitter
but better now it’s clear to me
that love is a bourgeois construct
so I’ve given up the bourgeoisie



“Love Is a Bourgeois Construct” lyrics © Embassy Music Corp. O/B/o Chester Music Corp., BMG Rights Management (UK) Ltd., Chester Music Ltd., BMG Rights Management (UK) Ltd.

[2]  cf. Ralph Barton Perry’s egocentric predicament.


[Transcript by Messina]

[PET SHOP BOYS lyrics are property and copyright of their owners.  “Love Is a Bourgeois Construct” lyrics are provided here for educational and personal use only.]

[11 NOV 2015]

[Last modified 20:13 PDT  16 AUG 2016]