Sunday, August 27, 2006

The local Palestinian owned supermarket just spent a lot of money installing a new set of refrigerated shelves for fruit and vegetables. The manager said they were also getting more organic produce, since people had asked for it. He seemed proud. I asked him who was pushing for the organics, thinking it might be the manhattanites, though I doubted there were enough yet to drive a market. "No. It's what people want. Everybody wants organic. The immigrants want it." He shrugged: "I want it."
And this is the poorer part of the neighborhood. My block is playing catch-up.

I'm seeing more women in the neighborhood fully covered: Arab women in Abayas, and Bangladeshi women in plain green, but also in colorful silks. This summer on hot days I saw a lot of parasols, carried by women in Salwar Kameez and Dupatta (long scarf), that are not always so demure. I saw a teenage girl in Hijab and a T-shirt that said "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy." There was a big Bangladeshi exodus to Detroit a couple of years ago, but a new group has taken their place. The immigrants are holding on. The Brazilians, Mexicans and Ecuadorians are still coming. The Greeks rent but don't sell. Albanians and ex-Yugoslavs (no Serbs) are still here, as are the Spanish (Galician), Japanese, Filipino and on down the list.

What drives the neighborhood is not capitalism but trade. "Trade doesn't eat itself" as a friend says. The logic of capitalism is voracious. It can't stop. As one logic among others, it's constrained. But it can't be constrained by an idea or a plan. It can only be constrained by another need.

American political and economic theorists -across the political spectrum- pay no attention to psychology. They leave that to novelists and pop stars. Chomsky's a believer in some sort of "rational actor theory." Liberals pretend at least. They all follow some form or another of an individualist philosophy that must deny both psychology and culture in order to make any sense. It's either freedom or vulgar determinism; autonomous logic or voodoo tribalism, the shadows of which are used as decoration after it's been overcome. But we aren't defined or constrained by culture. Feh.
Everything begins with psychology, and the psychology of capitalism is changing.


  1. Anonymous10:49 AM

    What drives the neighborhood is not capitalism but trade.

    No, I'm pretty sure it's capitalism.

  2. You missed my point. Unfettered self-interest is the definition of capitalism. Self-interest constrained by other obligations: to church, community, or family; or by other interests, predates capitalism. And if capitalism is now the dominant system, it has always coexisted with others. I can't even remember how may times over the last few years in conversations and arguments I've referred to my old landlady who kept my rent at a number that dropped from one half to one quarter of market rate over 12 years. In fact few people on my old block had leases and rents did not go up. The reason for this was very simple: the teachings of the Catholic Church as understood by members of the lower middle class in a neighborhood in north Brooklyn.

    I am not seeing the same thing right now in this neighborhood. But I am seeing an aggressive self-interest and upward mobility, constrained by something more subtle: a sense of casual pleasure in social life that in this country -in this city- is associated more with the upper middle class than with the immigrant communities and the residents of the outer boroughs. What I'm seeing I think is the generation of an ethic of social democracy that in the past has been foreign to this county. And I'm not seeing it only in the immigrant community. I'm sensing it in the variety of choices people are making, in their manners and tastes. I'm seeing it in architecture, in movies and in the culture as a whole.
    Of course people in this country who read blogs don't know or care about culture, and I'm pretty certain the logic of my response is lost on the person who made the comment above.
    So be it.


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