Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Questions Toward The Impact Of Human Nature

I've been doing a great deal of research and thought toward The Glorious Revolutions series we've been running over on Rebel News. Much of this kind of work occurs behind the screen. For instance, the rough document for the first two essays was over 20,000 words long, while the essays themselves wound up being about 1,500 words a piece. Similarly, each required the reading of 5 to 10 books. (In addition to whatever was ready at hand from past reading, with a little Internet refreshing.)

So... it's a process. But the next one I have planned has had me held up for a while. I've had a few conversations that have helped me spell out where I'm stuck, which have been both illustrative and interesting, so I wanted to share one here, while I continue to mull it over...

Clinton on Capitalism:
"Occasionally, we have to save capitalism from itself."
That kind of recursive and counter intuitive thinking will likely win over those in the middle class who wrestle with a fear of falling.
They will want to ask:
what specific polices do you plan on implementing to save capitalism from itself and how do you plan to prevent capitalism from harming itself in the future?
They won't think to ask:
why not create a system that doesn't need saving?
Or, why not the reverse? It is no less preposterous to think that socialism can be saved from itself. And yet many will say that such a position is absurd.
And yet, if we believe that democracy can tweak capitalism, why can it not tweak socialism?

I think you might be undervaluing just how pervasive capitalism is  it's not just a system of choice, nor one that's enforced, it isn't really comparable to politics (Democracy, Socialism, etc). It's re-enforced in literally every social, psychological, and now material structure that we've erected in the past several hundred years. It thrives on conflict and even disaster. I'm not saying it can't be undone, but it's not something you just take a vote on. No one I've spoken to  and this includes Marxist theorists, maybe especially them  seems to have any idea how to actually replace it with something, especially something that'd work better.

I was trying to ask the questions above in such a way as to expose how pervasive capitalism is, but I guess I missed a step somewhere...

Been studying Marxism for several years now, and I follow what you are saying. I don't think any serious thinker is under any delusion that Sanders will reverse or undo capitalism. I mean, he himself is really just as guilty of the "there is no alternative" Thatcherism as Clinton or anyone else. When pressed, he will describe a Casino style capitalism that he wants to end. And that is laying to one side the cultural aspects of capitalism no matter who is president (a position that has relatively little impact on economy).

I also agree that undoing capitalism in one fell swoop is impossible. 

That said, we have to be more attuned to spotting rhetorical trends that could lead to incremental changes over time. 

If we keep this discussion on voting, we can see that in a few short years something that sparked the left, and that is no small thing in a country as far to the right as the US. We have now public figures who can actually begin to critique capitalism an see the result of unbridled capitalism as immoral. That is quite an accomplishment. 

And the rise of figures like Sanders and Warren, however little they my resemble serious Socialist theorists, reflect that some kind of disruption has occurred in the relationship between the base and the superstructure. Suddenly people are noticing class again. This might result is something very interesting or it could just be the next stage of capitalism. We will have to see. But people are starting to think differently than before and that is a good thing.

For the record I'm actually not an advocate for undoing capitalism. I think the compromise implied by socialist democracy works better to cap the rampant exploitation unregulated capitalism is subject to. But the real problem at bottom is embedded in our hierarchical social behavior. We're not going to undo what we are, and by that I mean social animals, not capitalism strictly...

This is complicated to spell out properly  I've been working on a series that deals with this somewhat but am going to be stuck on the piece about cooperation v. competition, de Waal's primate ethics, etc.

I don't know anything about primate ethics. But I would be careful not to limit humanity to any fixed set of drives. Marx's point was that at bottom humanity was not limited to any sort of "-ness," not an evil or an inherent good; rather, human nature was malleable, it could change as conditions in the base (economic, class system) changed. This is why he wanted a dictatorship of the proletariat to replace the dictatorship of the middle-class that instituted and aided the pervading capitalist faith in markets as a way to structure nearly everything. A different base would lead to a different human nature. 

When we say things like "we can't undo what we are" we display just how fully in the grips of Capitalist hegemony we are. We construct fantasies about objective views on reality that reinforce an interpretation of what humanity is at bottom. And we also construct a fantasy that says that capitalism is natural but socialism is not. This is not true and a historical view of class conflict shows it not to be true. 

Hell, the tribes in America didn't operate that way until the Europeans began teaching them the virtues of exploiting slaves. 

If you want to understand the ways in which capitalism is pervasive, you need to start with the a priori assumption that it's natural to human nature.

This is why it's such a difficult topic to deal with right. Because that's not what I meant, but I can see why you interpreted it that way.

I'm not talking about inherent morality (Hobbes v. Rousseau) though the discussion has to kind of begin there. We can't, at the same time, entirely dismiss the role of biology (and by that I mean our existence as social animals with a particular evolutionary history) and try to place the discussion purely in the realm of ideology. This is one of the fundamental issues I have with neo/marxism, though I am no less find of behaviorist or positivist on the other extreme. It may be more accurate to speak of tendencies toward social stratification and asymmetrical power dynamics, rather than hierarchy, at the least because when you look at the diverse ways humans have tried to organize itself across cultures, the types of solutions are limitless but the existence of in groups and out groups is nearly universal. Game theory can model some of this, but so much of it is based on the premise that our actions are fundamentally rational, which appears to be completely incorrect  so much for Adam Smith but that's another story.

In fact, the only reason we could arguably need government is because of this  if our natural tendencies (whatever they are) are good in themselves, then what role could the state have but as an authoritarian parent? This is essentially Rousseau. What we really need is the piece of the puzzle that explains the multi-variable, conflicted "human nature" that drives personal and group subconscious (subconscious as the underlying driver of behavior). When we act, we hardly ever act for the reasons we think we act.

 There's no claim in there that capitalism has any ground in human nature, mind you- merely that it solves some of the problems involved in surviving as a group of several billion  when there are counterweights, and that's really the sticking point. I'd suggest that human nature, such as it is, drives our behavior, and capitalism provides one possible frame for that game. But not that the one is based in the other.

Still, any game that is going to be "better" (and for whom?  today's proletariat is tomorrow's bourgeois) has to take our behavioral tendencies to mind. And it is very hard, ultimately counter productive always to enforce these things top down (see also: fascism).

And this is where Wilhelm Reich's Mass Psychology of Fascism enters into this discussion. By that I mean only his central thesis, that personal psychology and mass psychology are not so different, so in fascism we can see acted out many of the dynamics of, say, a dysfunction family or marriage. Of course, to Reich, being essentially a neo-Freudian, he saw this primarily as an outcropping of repression. I'm much more inclined to look toward the intersections of structure (history, ideology, ...) and decision-making and motivation as an outcropping of social primate instincts.

The issue is this problem is raised by the final article I want to write for the Glorious Revolutions series. But it's looking more and more like the scope of a PhD thesis rather than a single article.

All It Takes Is The Right Story. Mythos Media


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