Archives for posts with tag: Karl Marx

A huge, and growing, number of people, of all ages and from all social strata, are mad about capitalism.
They see it as the ultimate cause for the misery and unhappiness too many of  us seem unable to escape.
On the other hand, a very vocal and very influential group, most of its constituents belonging to the mature section of the society, keeps  saying that ‘greed is good’.

What’s going on here?

Human minds, yours and mine, have to deal with information belonging to two, actually three, categories. I’ll leave aside the third one – ‘details’ concerning the innards of our bodies.
We have to deal with facts and with impressions/opinions/sentiments.
The facts happen or are ‘perpetrated’ and impressions/opinions/sentiments are felt and/or expressed.
We find out – or are told – about both facts and impressions/opinions/sentiments
Simultaneously, what’s going on around us elicits an emotional response from us, drives us to formulate impressions/opinions and, sometimes, to react. A.k.a, to commit other facts.

In fact, our present situation is the consequence of the accumulated facts ‘perpetrated’ by our predecessors. And, to a smaller but significant degree, by us.

This whole introduction was meant to explain the fact that we are here as a consequence of what we did during our earthly existence, including under ‘capitalism’, and that our impression/opinion/sentiment about capitalism will shape our future. And that of our children.
I’ll make a small intermezzo here and address myself to those of you who believe that our fate is determined by ‘God’.  “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” 1 John 4:12

Now please let me make a very short recap of how we got here.

I’ll be using ‘scientific’ information. I know that some of you will find it ‘unreliable’.
The following questions are meant to help you decide ‘on whose side are you’.
Did you ever travel in a plane?
Were you, or a family member, ever saved by modern medicine?
Do you use the internet?
Are you aware that planes, medicine and internet have been brought to us by ‘science and technology’?
I agree with you that individual scientists are prone to making mistakes but will you agree with me that planes most often than not reaching their destination, medicine not killing all its patients and internet being used by so many of us are strong indications that science and technology, on the whole, are ‘right’?

Let me go on.

We, Homo Sapiens, have two close cousins. Pan Troglodytes and Pan Paniscus.
The common and the pygmy chimpanzee. The latter also known as ‘bonobo’.

The differences between the regular chimpanzee and the bonobo are very important for those studying ‘capitalism’.
You see, both are social animals which live in close groups – like us, humans.
Chimpanzees are ‘authoritarians’ by definition. They follow a strict hierarchy – as long as the alpha male is able to impose it – and the leader harshly punishes any misdemeanor. Fights between chimpanzees are rather common and sometimes they end up with the death of one of the opponents.
Sex has a strict reproductive function and the dominant male sometimes discourages ‘his’ male ‘subjects’ from copulating with ‘his’ females.
Bonobos are democrats by excellence. When a male becomes too aggressive a few females – who are individually smaller and weaker than the males – band together and ‘knock some sense into his head’. But this instances are rare, more often any disputes are solved through sex. Yes, sex. The bonobos share our ‘ability’ to have sex, homosexual sex even,  “in a social context, with the same benefits as humans, such as stronger bonding and social hierarchies. It also has been seen to maintain a more peaceful environment amongst their community as aggression amongst the males can be vented through sexual acts.

What both chimpanzees and bonobos have in common is the fact that they have multiple sexual partners – which makes it impossible to know, bar a DNA analysis, who is the father of a certain baby.

I’ll come back to this in a short while.

After coming down from the trees of our early childhood and after having learned to run – as a manner to chase pray and to escape danger – we ‘discovered’ our ‘free’ hands.
And started doing things with them.

One other small thing was ‘the cherry on the cake’. Our ability to articulate sounds.

I don’t know when our brains had started to grow. Before or after we had started to hunt cooperatively, using weapons and verbal coordination. Does it really matter for the problem at hand?

Fact is that at some point in our history we were in possession of certain attributes and certain abilities. Big and flexible brains, the ability to walk using only two limbs – freeing the rest for other uses, the ability to communicate meaningfully with the rest of the gang and the ability to vent our frustrations through sex.

From here, our evolution has been very fast. Determined exclusively by the geography of the places where we happened to live. In the prairies we learned to raise animals and became herders, near rivers we learned to till,  seed and harvest while in the Arctic and in the jungle we remained hunter-gatherers.

The herders and the agriculturalists developed in two different directions.
The herders adopted – unwittingly – what is now called ‘the extensive way of development’ – by increasing the size of their herds – while the agriculturalists have tried to maximize the output of their limited plots of land.
The herders – being on constant move – have coalesced later into states, or never, while the agriculturalists had done it earlier. For reasons pertaining to labor productivity and the administration of justice.
In a herding environment there is no ‘police’ to turn to so individuals tend to fend for themselves. Some coalitions of tribes did organize annual meetings – Loya jirga  and Kurultai being but two examples – where ‘things’ could be discussed and settled but it was more often that people had resorted to a vendetta like justice.
In an agricultural environment things are more stable and a different set of demands have to be met.
Herders have very few property other than their stock and relatively little trade is exchanged among the members of the community.
Agricultural economy works differently. Higher productivity means the division of work is way deeper so trade is a lot more intense in this environment. This calls for ‘police protection’ which, in turn, calls for a relatively stronger state. Anyway, a stronger state was already needed since a richer, and sedentary, agricultural community is way more attractive for ‘thieves’ than a constantly traveling band of herdsmen.

A community which has a powerful group of professional fighters – ‘police’ and/or ‘army’ – is prone to become, sooner rather than later, an authoritarian regime. Where the ruler imposes his will over the entire community.
If we look closely this is what had happened all along human history. All states which depended heavily on agriculture had become authoritarian regimes. From Ancient Egypt and Sparta to the Medieval France and from the Aztec and Inca empires to China, on either side of the globe.
The problem with authoritarian regimes being that they inevitably fail. History doesn’t offer us a single example of an authoritarian regime which had been able to survive his own increasing weight. Rome was crumbling long before it was finally sacked by Odoacer, the American empires so easily conquered by the Spaniards were riddled by superstitions and by individual people being unable to think for themselves – living under terror tends to have that effect on those who survive – and there are countless more examples.

On the other hand, herders and those who trade in wares  made by others tend to behave ‘democratically’. Simply because herding and trading asks for a more individualistic and quicker thinking person. Compare Ancient Athens to Sparta, Medieval England and her Viking traditions to Medieval France and her Romanic reminiscences.
And also the democratic precursors I’ve already mentioned. The Mongols had their Kurultai, the Afghans their Loya Jirga.

By looking closely at all these examples I’ve reached the conclusion that people ‘yield’ better results whenever they enjoy as much individual autonomy as possible in a given situation.

The authoritarian Sparta had time and time again been beaten by the democratic Athens.
Athens had been destroyed as soon as it had lost her democratic status – Pericles was a dictator, you know…
The Roman Empire had been build as a democratic Republic and had started to crumble as soon as it was run as a dictatorship.
Slavery used to be a just as widely spread institution in Europe as it was in Asia at a time when Europe was extremely backward compared to Asia. Slavery had remained widely spread in Asia until recently while in Europe it had almost but disappeared since the VI-th century. Now consider the differences which existed between Europe and Asia around 1900…

The Soviet Union had crumbled under the combined weight of the apparatchiks while the US had become, for a while at least, the sole hegemon.

Now some people want to give up capitalism!
And replace it with what?

But what exactly is capitalism?

We currently use the history as it had been ‘layered’ by Marx.
He had done that using his preferred criterion: ‘who owned the “means of production”‘.
According to him we had three main historical stages and one bright future.
‘Slavery’, ‘Feudalism’, ‘Capitalism’ and ‘Communism’.
We already know that Communism has failed, abysmally, so let’s see what Marx might have overlooked.

‘Slavery’ means that the owner has every right over his possessions, even when those possessions are other human beings, while the ‘possessed’ individuals have absolutely none. A slave had no more rights than a modern day hammer. I can do whatever I want with my hammer – except using it to kill someone – just as I could have done with a slave in Ancient Rome. Including burning both of them, alive!
Can we speak of any autonomy being enjoyed by the slaves? Other than that extended, ‘haphazardly’, by the owners?
And you know what? The people were OK with all that. They simply thought that ‘that was how it was meant to be’. Until Spartacus had a different opinion…

‘Feudalism’ means that the king has every right over everything under his domain, including that of burning alive any of his subjects. But he was the only one to enjoy such  rights. A marked improvement over slavery!
The lords acted as the trustees of the king. They were given certain pieces of land, or other ‘perks’ – to collect a tax at a river crossing, for example – but not the right to dispose at their will of those living on the land at their disposal. And, at first at least, the lords were not entitled to sell those lands – only to bequeath them to their children, or other relatives, and even that was subjected to royal approvement.
A marked improvement – individual autonomy wise – from what was going on when Slavery was in full swing, at least for the commoners, but still far from what we have today. Ordinary people could not own much of anything, usually they could not live where they chose or exert the ‘profession’ they  liked without somebody allowing them to, etc., etc.,… Trade was also tightly ‘regulated’, whenever some merchandise was traveling from one place to another a lot of ‘right of way taxes’ had to be forked out towards various landlords.
The landlords, and the king, were also the ‘keepers of justice’. OK, they usually followed the ‘rule of the land’ but they were also able to ‘bend’ it to suit their will.

Not quite harsh as ‘slavery’ but still a very authoritarian regime, right?
Remember what I said about authoritarian regimes? That they tend to buckle under their own weight? As the French Monarchy did during the Revolution?

Now, who would initiate anything while living under an authoritarian regime? Where everything has to be ‘approved from above’? Specially when that ‘anything’ was an untried novelty or, God forbid, something that might have produced the slightest controversy?
Well this is exactly why authoritarian regimes have very little ability to innovate/adjust to external change.

Now that we’ve learned how authoritarian regimes dig their own graves – by insisting that there is only one correct way – ‘theirs’ – and that nobody may cross certain limits – those that have been drawn by ‘them’ – let’s examine what ‘capitalism’ looks like.

People usually associate capitalism with ‘money’.
Not even Marx had made that mistake. In his view ‘capital’ was everything that could be used to produce something: land, tools and raw materials and capitalists were those who owned that ‘everything’.
What Marx had forgotten to mention – or to understand – was that ‘merely’ owning something was never enough.
In order for ‘something’ to be truly ‘productive’ somebody must use it.
And in order for somebody to embark on an enterprise more complex than his ‘cooking his next dinner’ that somebody must be reasonably convinced of two things. That nobody would try to rob him of whatever he was going to do and that he will be able to trade the results of his work for anything he might covet.

See what I mean? For capitalism to flourish it is not enough for people to own things. People must be able to freely transform those things, according to their skills and abilities, and to trade them at their will.
In this sense capitalism needs to happen under the rule of law and its wares must be traded on the free market.

Then what went wrong? According to what I have written until now, everything couldn’t be better.  A considerable number of us do live under the rule of law, the markets are reasonably free in a considerable number of states… then why is so much unhappiness oozing from almost everywhere?
And how long are we going to remain steeped in it? To what consequences?

To be continued.

Darwin had wrote “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection“.
Some of us had mistakenly understood ‘evolution’ as being a ‘fight for survival’.
‘Fight’ as in ‘kill/subdue all those around you’, not ‘strive to improve yourself’, unfortunately.

Ernst Mayr had put things right. ‘Evolution is not about the survival of the fittest but about the demise of the unfit.

Adam Smith, a philosopher, had explained to us that free market capitalism functions because ‘the butcher, the brewer and the baker‘ cooperate across their respective ‘professions’, fully understanding that by respecting each-others work each of them would better serve their individual interests than by struggling individually.
Unfortunately too many of his contemporaries, and some later exegetes, mistook Smith’s words as meaning that ‘Greed is Good’.
And proceeded accordingly. Which was just another ‘application’ of Gresham’s Law. The ‘greedier’ among the capitalists slowly climbed to a dominant position and created a situation later described as ‘savage capitalism.’
Since people have a tendency to over-react, and to make matters worse instead of solving the problem, Karl Marx came up with an even more stupid idea than ‘Greed is Good’. According to him, the world should be run, in an equally authoritative manner, by a different class of people. Not by the ‘greedy capitalists’ but by the ‘virtuous communists’.
As if there ever was any real difference between dictators…

Almost a century later than Smith, Emil Durkheim, a sociologist, revisited the concept of ‘cooperation’ – from another angle, and demonstrated that society had leaped forward when each of its members developed his/hers particular talents instead of toiling together indiscriminately.  And then traded, on the free market, the results of their efforts. Nothing really new, just told in a different manner.
A marked difference from the ‘rantings’ of Marx. Who, by the way, had assessed the situation perfectly. Which makes it all the more baffling the fact that he was able to propose such aberrant remedies.

Almost simultaneously with Durkheim, another guy had noticed two very interesting things.  After a successful career as an engineer Vilfredo Pareto had started to study economics. Then he turned his attention to sociology. As an economist he had noticed the Pareto Principle – 80% of the results (income) are produced by 20% of the causes (agents), while as a sociologist he discovered that whenever social mobility, upwards as well as downwards, is hampered, the society where this happens will, sooner rather than later, experience serious difficulties. In fact this observation is quite straightforward. Whenever young people from the ‘lower strata’ cannot accede, despite being better qualified and harder working, to more meaningful positions because those positions are ‘safeguarded’ for members belonging to the ruling minority, the people from the lower strata stop striving while those from the ruling minority become lazy and careless. The recipe for disaster, don’t you think?
If we put both Pareto’s observations together we discover something similar to Smith’s budding concept of a free market. Whenever an individual, or a group of individuals, become so powerful as to dwarf those around them, economically as well as politically, the free market, economically as well as socially, stops working.

That’s why all monopolies have never failed to collapse.
That’s why all authoritarian regimes, including those built according to Marx’s rantings, have eventually failed – causing great harm to those fool enough to believe in them.

That’s why dinosaurs had disappeared – they had grown too big for their own good.
They behaved as if they were ‘greedy’. They seemed more interested in dominating the world instead of minding their own business.
Fishes – which are older than dinosaurs – survived and thrived.
Crocodiles, alligators, turtles, tortoises, snakes and you name whatever other reptiles come to your mind have survived the same conditions that have cut the mighty dinosaurs down to size.

That’s why Mayr goes on warning us. ‘Evolution is not about the survival of the fittest but about the demise of the unfit.

Let’s not destroy ourselves, as a species, attempting to prove him wrong.

Update
Pareto’s elite theory is rather straightforward.
As soon as a society ‘grinds to a halt’ tension starts to build up. A ‘lion’ – or a coalition of lions, will sooner or later seize the opportunity and ‘make a grab for it’.
By tearing the calcified sinews which tied the society down the lions actions unleash – for the moment, at least, the creative forces that could not assert themselves. Things become markedly better than they used to be.
Because the lions are ‘lazy’ they soon hire ‘foxes’ to run the show. Unfortunately the foxes tend to be rather narrow minded and soon their narrow-mindedness coupled with the decrepitude of the lion ‘in charge’ bring back the society to the original – aka bogged down, situation.
A younger lion/fresh coalition of lions restarts the cycle.
Basically we have the definition of the boom-bust cycle.
A very compelling example would be the manner in which communist states had crumbled under their own weight. Or the manner in which all monopolies – or even companies in dominant positions, eventually screw up. The automobile industry – a mature economic field, would be a very good example for this.
Nothing dramatically different from Schumpeter’s ideas, albeit at a different scale.
Ideally, in a free (aka fully functional) ‘market’ there are a number of lions which keep each-other at bay and a big enough number of foxes to keep the show together. The lions, acting in concert, make sure that the foxes do not take over while the foxes prevent the lions from driving the whole thing over the cliff.
If the circulation of the elites is hampered, in any way, shape or form, the continuous/evolutionary social and economical fine tuning no longer works and the society reverts to the boom-bust cycle.
A really free market would closely resemble Darwin’s, or more exactly Mayr’s, evolution while the present situation is one where the circulation of the elites has been brought almost to a halt.
The whole process tends to be rather ‘circular’. As in a vicious circle.
Or a virtuous one. As it used to be, until very recently.

NB. This blog is more like a collection of notes than anything else.
I write them down because doing this streamlines my thinking process and I make them public because readers’ feed-back (mostly on FB) is very helpful.

Apparently these two have nothing in common.

The first appears to be a pleonasm while the second sounds like an oxymoron.
The first was a window dressing for a kind of dictatorship that managed to survive for sometime while the second, if ever attempted, would be so volatile that it would ‘evolve’ almost instantly into a ‘dog eats dog’ situation soon to be followed by the most horrid authoritarianism ever known to man.

But there is something that binds them together.

Both had first appeared in the minds of well intended people who were fed up with and trying to do something about what was going around them.

Socialism, the predecessor of ‘popular democracy’ (a.k.a. communism) had grown as a consequence of the excesses committed by some of the ‘savage capitalists’ during the late XIIIV-th and early XIX-th centuries while libertarianism, the reasonable predecessor of libertarian anarchism, as a reaction to the prevailing statism of the late XX-th and early XXI-st ones.

Let me first explain, briefly, why the concept of ‘popular democracy’ is only apparently pleonastic while in reality this wording covers a sheer impossibility. Then I’ll try to extend my practical experience of living under such a regime into a prediction about what would happen if a group of people would ever have to face a truly anarchic situation.

First things first. Democracy means a situation where everybody can voice their concerns about what is going on and where decisions are made in a collective manner, after anyone who cared to had access to all information pertinent to the decisions that had to be made.
In this, theoretic, context ‘popular’ adds absolutely nothing.
In reality ‘popular’ was a window dressing for ‘the population doesn’t know what’s good for it so we, the communists, have to guide it’. Exactly as Marx had explained in the Communist Manifesto. “The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.”

Secondly, but not a iota less important, liberty and anarchy are antithetic terms.
Anarchy is absolutely natural. As natural as water boiling in a kettle. It is impossible to say which drop would ‘burst’ first in a bubble and which would be the last to transition from liquid to gas. OK, if you have a mixture of water and alcohol the latter will boil first and the water later but this would happen only if the sill is heated gradually. If the heat source is too strong, a.k.a. ‘uncontrolled’, the process of distillation becomes ‘anarchic’ and the result is lousy – to say the least. In ‘human terms’ this would translate into a ‘dog eats dog’ situation where things become very quickly aligned along a uni-dimensional criterion – usually ‘brute’ force used in a most callous way.
By the way, this is a second ‘connection’ between these two concepts.
‘Popular democracies’, and dictatorships in general, are eroded by the same dissolving force that would cause any anarchic situation to implode – the most callous and less principled members of the group eventually gain absolute control over the rest, only the process takes longer in a dictatorship.

My point being that dictators are constantly being challenged. Both from within and from outside. It is seldom that a dictatorship passes through all its fazes – like Romania’s communist regime did, or Cambodia’s. Usually at some point a group of people understands what’s going on and try to do something about it. For instance what happened in Russia during Perestroika.
Yes, that could have had better results but just imagine Russia going down to the same depths Romania has probed almost 30 years ago. When most (actually non)public offices were held by incompetent nincompoops whose only goal was to prolong their survival by serving their demented master. Could you have slept at night knowing that Russia’s nuclear arsenal was being managed by such idiots?

Most dictatorships are being ‘weighted down’ by tradition and cultural norms. A dictator needs some time before they can do what they want and they can almost never accomplish all that they would like to. Good or bad.

On the contrary, in a truly anarchic situation – when no rules are observed anymore, except for ‘he who has the biggest fist prevails’, of course – things degenerate very fast. And need a lot more time to get back on track.
Like what happened during the French Revolution. When “the Revolutionary government (the ‘big fisted’ guys of the moment) decided to make “Terror” the order of the day (September 5 decree) and to take harsh measures against those suspected of being enemies of the Revolution (nobles, priests, hoarders). In Paris a wave of executions followed. In the provinces, representatives on mission and surveillance committees instituted local terrors. The Terror had an economic side embodied in the Maximum, a price-control measure demanded by the lower classes of Paris, and a religious side that was embodied in the program of de-Christianization pursued by the followers of Jacques Hébert.”

You might be wondering how come that such a generous concept like ‘let’s treat the workers fairly’ was high jacked into the horrors of communism and whether the same rationale could be extended to predict what a libertarian-anarchist society might (d)evolve into.
The way I see it people’s imagination is huge. A lot of things that might seem bland to ordinary eyes are perceived as resources by ‘crafty’ people and a lot of situations that seem helpless, or even desperate, to normal human beings are seen as very good opportunities by those adept at fishing in troubled waters.

It’s exactly the individuals where this kind of ‘craftsmanship’ is associated with ‘moral lassitude’ who would spare no effort in their attempt to make the’ best’ of the opportunities present in a country being run in an authoritarian manner or during an anarchic situation.

For this kind of guys it doesn’t matter whether the ancient regime was toppled by some socialist utopian (for instance Kerensky in Russia or Dr. Sun Yat-sen in China) or by a bona fide dictator (like, for example, Jorge Rafael Videla of Argentina under whose regime some 10 000 to 30 000 people have been ‘disappeared’ by the authorities). Or whether the anarchic situation has been a consequence of regimes imploding from within (pre-revolutionary France, communist Russia, yesterday day Libya) or being unsettled by  sloppy outside interventions  (Afghanistan and Iraq)

All these situations, and many others, are the perfect breeding and hunting ground for  ‘political hyenas’, callous ‘operatives who would eventually ‘denature ‘even the most well intended dictatorship or ‘well organized’ libertarian anarchy.

I’ve already experienced one of this situation.

I really don’t want to experience the other. No matter how appealing it might seem to the libertarian ‘fundamentalists’.

 

quote-the-philosophers-have-only-interpreted-the-world-in-various-ways-the-point-however-is-to-change-karl-marx-250986

Change it into what? And on what grounds?

I had spent the first 30 years of my life under communist rule and I’ve witnessed, first hand, the debacle produced by a bunch of people trying to transform the world according to their own liking. And it’s not only that they had brought a lot of misery to an awful lot of people but they also brought it upon their own heads. They, and their families, have been indeed living a lot better than the rest of the people but a lot worse than the ordinary people living in the free world. Not to mention the fact that many of them ended up really bad, some of them at the hands of their own insatiable, Minotaur-like, leaders and some others during and immediately after the regime change.

I’m writing this post after watching Jon Haidt’s excellent lecture “Two incompatible sacred values in American universities“, delivered at Duke’s Departement of Political Science on October 6, 2016.

The point of Haidt’s conference being that each university should clearly declare its ‘telos’ as belonging to one of these two clear cut options:

the-point-of-a-university_dxo

Don’t bother to search the quote attributed to John Stuart Mill.

It is only an interpretation belonging to Haidt himself, who had inferred it from one of Mill’s famous quotes excerpted from  “On Liberty”:

quote-he-who-knows-only-his-own-side-of-the-case-argument-knows-little-of-that-his-reasons-john-stuart-mill-125-0-0981

So, what should it be?

Change or Truth?

Before proceeding any further I strongly suggest that you take some time and listen to Haidt’s excellent arguments.

Now I’d like to discuss a little about ‘Change’ and ‘Truth’.

What both Marx and Haidt have in mind when they speak about ‘change’ is both ‘purposeful’ and ‘centralized’.
When they say ‘change’ they mean an ‘effort towards increased social justice’, effort whose parameters would be determined by the wise men (and women) delving in the depths of the University’s libraries and which would be implemented without fail, preferably with a sanction from the higher authority.

I had already mentioned, at the beginning of my post, where such ‘change’ would lead anyone  attempting to put it into practice.
And Haidt gives us an excellent explanation for why anybody who will ever attempt such a thing would eventually fail. (I told you to watch his conference…It may be long but every minute of it is packed with very interesting things!)

So why is Haidt challenging us to make this choice instead of giving us a clearer piece of advice?

Well… maybe you should ask him that… I’d hate to believe that he, in his own words, ‘has become afraid of that too many of his students might feel that he is so distanced from what is generally accepted that too few of them would follow him’.

So what should we do?
Some of us should embark on a ‘sterile’ search for the (absolute) truth and then, after eventually finding it, nurse it quietly in our lap but refrain from an even minutely more drastic action while others should attempt to implement change based on already ‘over the hill’ principles?

I’m afraid that would be a dangerous road to follow.

There is no such thing as an ‘absolute’ truth that might be nursed in our lap and even if there was such a thing we are not able to find it – individually or even as a group. There’s plenty evidence about that in Haidt’s discourse.
And then what would be the use of the whole enterprise if we are not planning to use the results of our quest, whatever those might be?

And here lies the crux of the matter.

I’m sure Haidt knows what I’m going to tell you now and I’m very sorry that most of your teachers have never mentioned at class this very interesting story.

Marx was not the first revolutionary thinker of his time.
OK, you already know that. There were a certain number of French intellectuals whose writings have set the stage for the 1789 Revolution.
What is less known is that John Stuart Mill himself had been groomed by his father “as the future leader of this radical movement”, whose aim was supposed to be “social reform based on utilitarianism” with the goal of attaining “the greatest happiness of the greatest number“.

The only difference between James Mill (the father) and Karl Marx being that Mill didn’t advocate the the forceful confiscation of the ‘means of production’.
Otherwise both were faithfully following Plato’s dictum:
Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, and those commoner natures who pursue either to the exclusion of the other are compelled to stand aside, cities will never have rest from their evils, –nor the human race, as I believe, –and then only will this our State have a possibility of life and behold the light of day. Such was the thought, my dear Glaucon, which I would fain have uttered if it had not seemed too extravagant; for to be convinced that in no other State can there be happiness private or public is indeed a hard thing“.

Well, the problem with this line of thought is that it doesn’t work.
Again, Haidt has already presented a solid case about this and I’m not going to re-count his arguments.

So, since there is no such thing as an absolute truth to be discovered, one way or another, and no priest-kings on any white stallions that might come to our rescue, what shall we do?

Simple.
Follow Haidt’s, and John Stuart Mill’s, advice and take it one small step further.

The point of a university is to understand the world because only if you commit to truth, I believe, can you actually achieve justice.

We need to understand, and accept, two things:
Change has to be allowed to come naturally, not pushed forward simply because we are momentarily convinced that ‘The Truth’ had downed on us,
And that (social)justice is a process which has to be implemented on an ‘as needed’ basis, not an independent goal?

In fact Mill’s personal destiny is eloquent enough for what happens when somebody tries to breed a ‘perfect’ Priest-King.
“But in 1826, Mill began to suffer from a severe depression, which he attributed to his excessive analytical training and the resulting impairment of his emotional capacities. Reading the romantic poetry of Wordsworth and Coleridge helped Mill to overcome this mental crisis. It also inspired him to form a more complex view on human flourishing than the Benthamite utilitarianism of his father’s generation, with its dogmatic rationalism and unidimensional concept of pleasure.”

And this is why Haidt is absolutely right when he tells us that we need to expose ourselves to a lot more than what we are already familiar, and comfortable, with.
And this is why Heidegger kept warning us that truth as conformity between our words, or even our understanding, and the reality of the fact that we try to understand, and describe to others, is a Fata Morgana which consistently eludes us and that the only way to get any closer to her is ‘unhidennes’.

In this sense there is nothing better than an open mind, both towards our innermost thoughts and to the people living, and thinking, around us.

A mind open enough as to be able to simultaneously attempt to implement whatever changes become necessary in the light of the newly discovered truths AND accept the possibility that those ‘newly discovered truths’ might be incomplete or even altogether false.

Does all this seem rather schizophrenic?

Then let me rephrase the question I started with.

What’s the use of ever trying to understand anything if we’re not going, ever, to change our behavior as a consequence of anything we might come to figure out and on what basis is anyone to attempt any change if he never tried to understand anything above what he already knew long before he even started to think about any change?

As I was ready to close this post I stumbled upon the thought that maybe Haidt meant to apply in the academic world a principle that has been proved invaluable in the political life.

‘Separation of powers’.

Some universities would busy themselves with finding ‘the truth’ while others would attempt to find ways to put ‘it’ into practice.

Leaving aside the fact that this would smack too much of Marxism for my taste I’ll have to remind you that the separation of powers has become necessary in the political realm only because the government has an effective monopoly on power and we need to make it so that it cannot abuse this situation.

No university has any monopoly on truth and/or change.
Furthermore, not even the Academia, as a system, has been able to implement such a monopoly. Not for lack of trying, but that’s another subject.

So, instead of acquiescing to such efforts – by accepting certain universities as official ‘truth seekers’ and others as ‘path finders’/’change implementers’, we’d better ask each and all of them to clean up their acts.

And open up their collective minds.

 

Karl Marx. The world is crooked – there is too much exploitation imposed by the haves upon the have-not’s – so it has to be righted by those who have the right answer to the problem. And because the world doesn’t know what’s good for it, the ‘enlightened’ – the communists who are at the forefront of the class struggle – have the duty to impose the revolution by force.
The crux of the ‘solution’ being the abolition of both private property and the state. The private property because it is the tool with which the haves dominate the have-not’s and the state because it is the tool used by the haves to protect their private property from the have-not’s who continuously try to steal it.
But what tool can be best used to enforce the dissolution of the private property and to insure that the misguided and the ill intended don’t revert to the ‘old and corrupt ways of the bourgeoisie’? The state, of course. Hence we’ll have to postpone a little its dissolution, only until the first chores would have been completed, of course.

Max Weber. The world is too complicated to be understood/run by a single man, no matter how capable. That’s why the decision making process must be rationalized. Weber’s main methodological tool was the ‘ideal type’, a mental construction that is to be substituted to replace the real problem that has to be solved or the real thing that is being studied. This ideal type being stripped of the ‘unimportant’ aspects of the reality will make it a lot easier for the ruler/decision maker/scientist to understand what is going on there and to come up with the ‘correct’ decision or ‘clear’ understanding of the matter. This means that Weber was convinced that individuals are able, in certain conditions, to reach valid conclusions. Which is, of course, OK. Furthermore Weber had ‘reached the conclusion’ that if larger problems are to be solved then the efforts of single individuals are not enough and that in order to fulfill this task in a satisfactory manner many rational decision makers (which have been properly trained in their strict domains) have to be inter-connected into a well structured ‘net’. This way the big problem will be sliced into more manageable sub-problems which will be analyzed by specialists and then the final solution will be re-assembled by people specially trained for exactly this task. Nowadays this entire concept is known as ‘bureaucracy‘. In theory it sounds right, doesn’t it? What could be better than an all encompassing net comprised of rational/professional decision makers who act according to a well considered and well intended ‘ideal type’? Whose ideal type? Good question, indeed. Just as good as ‘who and how trained the ‘decision makers’?’.
(There is something we must keep in mind when discussing Weber, as a person. He died relatively young, before having a chance to reach a ‘final conclusion’, or at least one to satisfy him. That also has to be the reason for which he hasn’t published much during his lifetime.)

Plato. Society (the city, the “Republic’) should be run by a specific kind of (dedicated) people and because “those with the philosopher’s natural abilities and with outstanding natures often get corrupted by a bad education and become outstandingly bad” this ‘special kind of people’ need to receive “the proper kind of education“. Meaning that ‘a true philosopher’ has to be versed in ‘the Forms of Good’, which are amply explained in ‘The Cave Allegory’.
The gist of the matter is two layered.
1. The reality is hidden behind some ‘veils’ (or in ‘shadows’ if you prefer the original metaphor) but properly trained professionals (the philosophers) can be taught to see what Plato describes as ‘the ultimate truth’.
2. These professional truth seekers have not only the right to lead the rest of the people ‘into the light’ but the obligation to do so! Furthermore, for Plato the ‘ideal political structure’ – the Republic – would be so organized as to ‘force’ into public duty those who have been specially ‘bred and trained’ to perform such duty:
“Observe, Glaucon, that there will be no injustice in compelling our philosophers to have a care and providence of others; we shall explain to them that in other States, men of their class are not obliged to share in the toils of politics: and this is reasonable, for they grow up at their own sweet will, and the government would rather not have them. Being self-taught, they cannot be expected to show any gratitude for a culture which they have never received. But we have brought you into the world to be rulers of the hive, kings of yourselves and of the other citizens, and have educated you far better and more perfectly than they have been educated, and you are better able to share in the double duty. Wherefore each of you, when his turn comes, must go down to the general underground abode, and get the habit of seeing in the dark. When you have acquired the habit, you will see ten thousand times better than the inhabitants of the cave, and you will know what the several images are, and what they represent, because you have seen the beautiful and just and good in their truth. And thus our State which is also yours will be a reality, and not a dream only, and will be administered in a spirit unlike that of other States, in which men fight with one another about shadows only and are distracted in the struggle for power, which in their eyes is a great good. Whereas the truth is that the State in which the rulers are most reluctant to govern is always the best and most quietly governed, and the State in which they are most eager, the worst.”

I believe that by now you have grasped where I’m headed to. There is not much difference between Marx and Plato and a very close relationship between these two and Weber. Still, the fact that Weber was not yet done thinking about this matter at the moment of his untimely death makes me believe that if he had some more time at his disposal he would have understood what Laozi taught us about the concept of “nonaction”:

And isn’t it very strange that the best (short) presentation I was able to find about Laozi is hosted by a site called “Plato.Stanford.edu”?

https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/
http://www.academia.edu/4192854/Weber_s_methodology_understanding_concept_of_ideal_type_as_necessary_element_of_Weberian_comprehensive_sociology_Working_paper_
http://www.cf.ac.uk/socsi/undergraduate/introsoc/weber12.html

http://www.historyguide.org/intellect/allegory.html
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/laozi/
http://izquotes.com/quotes-pictures/quote-the-wicked-leader-is-he-who-the-people-despise-the-good-leader-is-he-who-the-people-revere-the-lao-tzu-188515.jpg

Karl Marx’s version or Max Weber’s?

“the difference between truth as the “unhiddenness of beings” and truth as the “correctness of propositions” (Martin Heidegger)

Only after reading (again) the Essence of Truth I started to grasp the huge mistake made by Marx and his followers.
His declared motives were ‘the emancipation of the oppressed’ and if we are to grasp his work we need to read him in this key.

Only this way I could finally understand why for him ‘capital’ means exclusively ‘trade-able wealth’, money or things easily measurable in monetary units.
Only this way I could finally understand why for him ‘capitalism’ was exclusively about personal profit and hence despicable.

All this had happened because Marx wasn’t really interested in understanding how capitalism works, what it means and how it generated a medium in which creative and hard working people could make better use of the available resources than in previous social settings.
Marx was a man of a mission (it’s not that clear for me if he considered himself a saint that was meant to free the working class, a con-man who swindled a lot of money from Engels under the pretext of helping the poor or both at the same time) and we need to accept that almost all he did write was dedicated to this mission of his, whatever that was.

On the other hand Max Weber was also a man of a mission only his was different from Marx’s.
What he set out to do was to understand the inner workings of capitalism, how it came about and what consequences it might have.

““The most trifling actions that affect a man’s credit are to be regarded. The sound of your hammer at five in the morning, or eight at night, heard by a creditor, makes him easy six months longer; but if he sees you at a billiard table, or hears your voice at a tavern, when you should be at work, he sends for his money the next day; demands it, before he can receive it, in a lump. ‘It shows, besides, that you are mindful of what you owe; it makes you appear a careful as well as an honest man, and that still increases your credit.’ “

This is a brief excerpt from Weber’s “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” – retrieved, ironically, from an internet site run by “marxists”, http://www.marxists.org.
Weber is quoting here Benjamin Franklin in an attempt to make us understand what is the true spirit of capitalism.
At the first glance we might say it corresponds closely to what Marx had said about the subject – that it all boils down to money – only after further consideration it becomes apparent that while Marx had stopped there, at ‘money’, Weber and Franklin had seen way deeper than that.

Capitalism is not that much about mere money as it is about credit. Trust that is.

No one would extend credit without trust, no one would enter a contract without mutual trust and so on.

So what would it be? Which version of capitalism would you prefer?
The one in which we would strive to get hold of as much money as possible or the one in which each of us is held responsible by the others for his actions and holds those around him responsible for their actions – this being the only manner in which real trust can be established among us?

Please note that in reality these two sides of capitalism are like the two hands of a working man. For a short time one can get along with only one of them but no sane individual would prefer to live, and work, with only one hand, right?

Then how come our obsession about mere money has come to trump almost everything else?

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