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Free to obey: Did the Nazis invent modern management culture? | Culture

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Is there a link between how modern companies are managed… and Nazi Germany? In his groundbreaking essay, Free to obey, historian Johann Chapoutot – professor of Contemporary History at the Sorbonne – describes how Hitler’s regime launched a model of hierarchical organization based on individual initiative and the delegation of responsibilities.

According to Chapoutot, the Nazis defended a non-authoritarian conception of work, where the worker was no longer a subordinate, but rather a “collaborator” – a notion that may seem to contradict the illiberal character of the Third Reich.

This strategy of assigning tasks and defining competencies – opposed to the verticality of British or French capitalism at the end of the 19th century – was at the service of the German war economy and the extermination of millions of people. However, it ended up surviving the end of the conflict in 1945 and was left as an inheritance to post-war Europe.

The essay caused astonishment and some controversy when it was published in France in 2020, where it became a small publishing phenomenon.

“I discovered the similarities between the Nazi and neoliberal models by studying the work of German jurists, who theorized about a new normative framework for the regime: they needed a new moral law, a new right that would authorize them to exterminate part of the population,” explains Chapoutot in a restaurant attached to the Sorbonne. Among these theorists was Reinhard Höhn, who, after World War II, became the father of modern management in Germany.

Höhn believed that the state should disappear and give way to new government agencies that were less bureaucratic and more dynamic, in which autonomous and happy workers would thrive. For Chapoutot, studying the labor organization of the Nazi regime allows us to delve into another even more thorny question: that of the historical status of Nazism in Europe.

“The Nazis are fully integrated into Western history. Hitler’s legacy is inscribed in our modernity. In reality, the Nazis did not invent anything. They [simply] took logics that existed before their rise to power and took them to the extreme… they then remained after the disappearance of the regime.”

The essay dismantles many myths about Nazism. For instance, Hitler was actually opposed to the idea of a strong state – revered in Prussian times – as he considered it to be a catastrophe for the German race. In 1934, he declared, “it is not the state that gives us orders, but we who give orders to the state.”

In opposition to Marxism, the Nazis promoted a kind of voluntary alienation of the worker. “They promoted a new concept of subordination that would be accepted by the subordinate himself. Nazism’s projects were gigantic: they had to produce, expand, reproduce and prepare for war in record time. Repression did not work. It was necessary to obtain the consent, or even the enthusiasm of those subjected,” Chapoutot points out. This ambition gave rise to an organization of work that highlighted its pleasant character, ventilation and hygiene measures, ergonomics and leisure activities.

 The historian Johann Chapoutot, author of Free to obey, in Paris, September 2022
The historian Johann Chapoutot, author of Free to obey, in Paris, September 2022Bruno Arbesú

In Nazi Germany, the phrase “strength through joy” was popularized by the Ministry of Propaganda, with the rulers convinced that production could only be sustained through an illusory sense of joy and well-being. The state organized vacations for workers, concerts in factories, sports activities, special diets and courses to manage stressful workloads. The parallels to the “happiness managers” that have emerged in Silicon Valley – offering yoga courses and installing foosball tables for employees – are eerie.

The goal of Hitler and Propaganda Minister Goebbels – as they made clear in two speeches delivered on May 1, 1933 – was to end the class struggle and eliminate conflict in the workplace, so as not to harm productivity.

“In contrast to what they labeled as ‘Jewish Marxism’ – which opposed work and capital – Nazi propaganda launched another image: the engineer and the worker shaking hands. In the First World War, they had fought together in the trenches, because they were part of the same nation and the same race. Marxism threatened to destroy that unity,” explains Chapoutot. “Hitler told the workers that he was one of them.”

Above all, the Nazis advocated social Darwinism: a society of winners and losers where the latter could only blame themselves for their failure. To be an acceptable citizen, you had to not only belong to the right race, but also produce beyond your means.

“When this was not the case, the individual became a dead weight for society, which opened the door to their extermination. The Nazis represent a kind of dehumanization that is still valid today. We are no longer people, but human material… an omnipresent expression in the language of the Nazi regime, which was later renamed ‘human resources.’ “

Chapoutot thinks that the massive layoffs taking place in the post-industrial era are tied to the dehumanization pushed in the 1930s and 40s. He recalls the privatization of France Télécom, which resulted in 35 worker suicides in 2009.

“Two years earlier, its CEO had stated that the 22,000 laid off employees – useless for a public company in the process of privatization – should leave ‘by the door or by the window.’ And that’s what happened,” the historian laments.

He admits that his essay has a deeply political dimension. “With respect to the current climate, [we need] to remember where that dangerous vocabulary comes from.”

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The discreet return of Will Smith after the Oscars slap | Culture

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Eight months after slapping comedian Chris Rock during the Oscars ceremony, Will Smith is back. The performer, who that same night won the award for Best Actor for his role in King Richard, has been preparing his comeback for weeks. His return coincides with the release of his new film, Emancipation, Apple TV+’s big bet for the upcoming awards season. Before the scandal, Smith was the platform’s strong asset to promote the movie, but his behavior that day changed everything. Even if he were nominated for an award, he would not be able to attend the Oscars, as the Academy has banned him from any of its events for a decade.

Set to be released on Friday, December 2 in selected theaters (a requirement to be eligible for the Oscars), Emancipation is Smith’s first movie since the slap affair. The film, directed by Antoine Fuqua, is based on the true story of a slave who flees a plantation in 19th-century Louisiana to reunite with his family. Smith plays the lead, Gordon, who went down in history as Whipped Peter. The image of his whipped, wounded back was seen around the world in 1863 and helped illustrate the cruelty of slavery.

That same picture caused a controversy on the red carpet of the Los Angeles premiere when producer Joey McFarland took the original print of the famous photograph to the event. “I wanted a piece of Peter to be here tonight,” McFarland explained. The gesture was not well received on social media, and some African-American activists were very critical. “I don’t know, man, but bringing ‘a piece of Peter’ that you ‘own’ to the red carpet of a movie that’s personally enriching you so that you can collect more slave memorabilia that you’ll keep until your death…,” said film producer Franklin Leonard in a message on Twitter. Later, McFarland apologized: “I hope my actions didn’t distract from the film’s message, Peter’s story and just how much impact he had on the world,” he wrote on Instagram.

A still image from ‘Emancipation,’ Will Smith’s latest film, which will stream on Apple TV+.
A still image from ‘Emancipation,’ Will Smith’s latest film, which will stream on Apple TV+. Quantrell Colbert (AP)

Emancipation will be released on Apple TV+ on Friday, December 9. For months, the conversation in Hollywood had revolved around what the company would do with this film that cost more than $120 million. Many assumed that the release would be pushed back to 2023, by which time, the slap would have become old news. However, Apple decided to stay on course, in the hopes that the movie will follow in the footsteps of CODA, which became the first film released on a streaming service to win the Oscar for Best Picture.

In October, Smith held a private screening attended by some of the most powerful and influential African Americans in Hollywood, including Rihanna, rapper A$AP Rocky, comedian Dave Chappelle, filmmaker Tyler Perry and designer Fawn. Then, on November 29, he appeared on The Daily Show, hosted by his friend Trevor Noah on Comedy Central. On the show, he talked about all that went through his head during and after that “horrible night”: how a long bottled up anger made him lose his temper when he heard Rock’s joke about his wife, and how he has spent most of the year trying to forgive himself “for being human.”

The actor is aware that there are some who have not forgiven him, and does not rule out the possibility that many people will not want to see his new film and may even call for a boycott. “I completely understand if someone is not ready, I would absolutely respect that and allow them their space to not be ready. My deepest hope is that my actions don’t penalize my team,” he expressed recently in a brief interview for Good Day DC.



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James Cameron on filming ‘Titanic’: ‘Kate Winslet came out a bit traumatized’ | Culture

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Kate Winslet began filming Titanic when she was 20 years old, and turned 21, during the 160 days the shoot lasted. In her first interviews after its release, the British actress shared her thoughts on the film’s director, James Cameron. “He has a temper like you wouldn’t believe,” she told The Guardian.You’d have to pay me a lot of money to work with Jim again.”

However, 25 years later, Winslet has joined forces with Cameron again on Avatar: The Way of Water, the long-awaited sequel to the sci-fi epic released in 2009. And, now, it is Cameron who has discussed the experience of shooting Titanic. “I think Kate came out of Titanic a bit traumatized by the scale of the production and her responsibility within it,” Cameron told Radio Times.

The 68-year-old director said that despite the rumors, there was never any hostility between them. “We’ve both been eager over time to work together again, to see what the other is about at this point in our lives and careers,” Cameron said.

Titanic was a worldwide success. Until the release of Avatar, it was the highest grossing film in history. It became the first film ever to make more than $1 billion at the box office, a record it broke just four months after its release. It was nominated for 14 Oscars, and took home 11, including Best Picture and Best Director. But the movie, with a $200 million-budget, was also one of the most expensive ever made. With costs soaring, executives suggested some scenes be cut to save money, but were shut down by Cameron.

The film earned the director a reputation as “the scariest man in Hollywood.” “He became known as an uncompromising, hard-charging perfectionist and 300- decibel screamer,” wrote journalist Christopher Goodwin in a 2009 article in The Sunday Times. But Cameron has always denied these allegations, claiming that a strict methodology is needed when working with thousands of people.

Winslet spoke about the high-pressure environment on set in a 1997 interview with The Los Angeles Times. “The first day started at 5 am and went on to 1 am,” she said. “Nothing could have prepared me for it. There were quite a few 20-hour days. And two-thirds of it was night shooting – because the Titanic sunk at night. It was every man for himself on the set – you had to ensure that you snatched some sleep during the day, with a black eye mask on. Sometimes you’d find yourself having lunch at 2 am or breakfast at 4 pm. It was very disorienting.”

After the grueling experience on Titanic, Winslet said shooting Avatar: The War of Water was much more enjoyable. In an interview with The Telegraph, she described Cameron as a “genius,” and said “he is much more calm now.” She explained: “There were all those conversations about this huge film, Titanic. I can’t imagine the pressure. As we get older, we learn how to say, ‘I made a mistake.’ We all get better at that, don’t we?”

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The sacred drugs of antiquity: Fact and fiction | Science & Tech

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One of the most fascinating aspects of ancient civilizations is the artistic and religious manifestation of their consumption of mind-bending natural substances. In the 1970s, historian Carl A. P. Ruck, mycologist R. Gordon Wasson and others coined a term to designate psychoactive substances used to produce visionary experiences in spiritual rituals – entheogens. The term is derived from two ancient Greek words: entheos, which translates as “full of the god, inspired, possessed,” and genesthai, which means “to come into being.” Together with Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann, the first to synthesize LSD, they wrote The Road to Eleusis, a controversial book that proposed the ritual use of ergot, a fungus with hallucinogenic properties, as a way of understanding the secretive Mysteries conducted at Eleusis in Greece for nearly two millennia. It wasn’t a new idea – other anthropologists and religious historians from renowned universities in Cambridge, Vienna and Chicago had proposed consuming the so-called “plants of the gods” to probe the myths, images and ancestral stories of ancient peoples.

While it was generally accepted that prehistoric peoples used psychoactive substances to induce visions, trances and ecstatic experiences, scholars found it hard to acknowledge that the Roman and Greek founders of Western civilization also had myths and rites full of references to these sacred plants. But when it came to the classical world, perhaps a deep-rooted Eurocentric bias hampered the objective application of the historiographic and anthropological approaches used to study “other peoples.” This bias seems to persist even today despite excellent books like Las drogas sagradas en la Antigüedad (or, The Sacred Drugs of Antiquity) by Carlos G. Wagner, which seek to dispel such outdated attitudes.

Wagner’s book is the culmination of 40 years of research that began in Phoenicia (an ancient civilization in the Levant region of the eastern Mediterranean), extended to the Greco-Roman world, and then to Egypt and the Ancient Orient. It is a comprehensive historical and cultural journey through the ancient world, from the dawn of the river valley civilizations to the symbiosis of Christianity with Greco-Latin cultural structures. Wagner’s book uses archaeobotanical accounts combined with literary and iconographic sources to examine entheogenic substance use in the art and religious rituals of various societies.

Wagner’s methodical and objective study of entheogens in antiquity provides substantial evidence of their use. Readers should not expect a New Age treatise on drug-based religious naturalism, or an anachronistic apology, or an all-encompassing and simplistic explanation for every mystery of antiquity, which characterize many books about entheogens. However, he does not shy away from controversial issues such as shamanism and other anthropological labels like thaumaturges (miracle workers) and medicine-men. Nor does he discount the notion that drugs may have inspired artistic creation and religious intuition since prehistoric times.

Such a study requires geographical and historical comparisons: East versus West, prehistory versus antiquity. It is surprising to read in Wagner’s book that great works like Gilgamesh and Homer’s epic poems may allude to ethnobotany and the manifestation of sacred botanical, oracular, shamanic or visionary symbology in art. One begins to wonder about the entheogenic backdrop of the hero’s battles with monsters like Medusa and Humbaba, or the references to magical herbs in Greek, Germanic and Celtic myths, not to mention the ones in Indo-Iranian religions. Wagner systematically tackles classic questions about Eleusis and Pythia, the Oracle of Delphi, and gives his readers a balanced assessment of what is known and what remains in the realm of hypothesis. He also includes a long discussion of Dionysian religion and its use of trance-inducing intoxicants, and compares it to the worship of other ancient nature gods of fruitfulness and vegetation.

Carlos Wagner has written an exciting book that synthesizes the current body of knowledge about the role of psychoactive substances, and also presents insights from neuroscience on how they affect the mind and body. The use of vision-inducing substances in spiritual rituals officiated by priestly elites enabled them to maintain their own power and prestige through stories, rituals and images. The myths, visions, sorceries, oracles and trances that persisted over four millennia can and should be viewed in the light of mythical plants like ambrosia, soma and haoma, and real ones like hellebore, dogbane, cannabis and poppy.

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