Archive for category Politics

On Capitalism

If the links I’ve posted recently give any indication — and they do — I am a critic of capitalism. I have some scruples, though, that keep me from going all the way with that criticism. Let me try to explain.  

  • First, I am not an economist. I have read broadly but not deeply on a variety of economic theories, and I have to confess to coming away rather more confused than I had hoped. Thus I cannot offer a solid opinion on the overarching mechanisms of the economy, since the theories I’ve familiarized myself with conflict, sometimes severely. So I have to admit to “going with my gut” with a number of my views here (not always advisable for a philosopher). But I’d also have to say that I am doubtful that anyone can provide a knock-down, irrefutable argument for one economic system versus another. There is an “irreducible complexity” to global and local economic systems, and different theories offer different tradeoffs. There is no utopian system forthcoming.  

  • Second, even some of us critics of capitalism can see some of that system’s merits. Indeed, even Marx and Lenin can be found approving certain aspects of the capitalist system, at least as they pertain to its role in the “inevitability” of communism (for instance, in the elimination of scarcity). A recent piece regarding capitalism’s role in combating climate change has to be read against the flood of evidence of capitalism’s responsibility for producing dangerous climate change. As this article aptly puts it, we may not be able to “crowd source” our way out of this mess.  

  • Third, I am highly dubious of centralized solutions to challenges of this complexity. To reiterate an ancient knock on socialism, nobody is smart enough to organize the economy from an armchair.  

  • Fourth, I believe in the power of freedom, including free markets. A central tenet of my criticism of capitalism is that it prevents there being truly free markets. The markets we have are oligopolies kept in place by the armaments of various nation states who have become the corporations’ lap dogs. They are anything but free. They are anything but rational. Remember there are two concepts of freedom: I can open up a chemistry lab full of chemicals and bunsen burners and so forth and let you have at it to your heart’s content. You are free to do as you will. But if you are ignorant, you will simply be free to blow yourself up. The lack of restraint is identical to your being captive to the severe consequences of your ignorance. But if you are extremely disciplined in learning how all that equipment works and how all those chemicals might react with each other, then you will be truly free — not to do any old thing you want, but to work in harmony with the reality of that lab in order to do beneficial things relatively safely. Our so-called “free market” seems to me only free in the first sense, having overall a reckless disregard for people and for our world. Nevertheless, I remain skeptical of overly-centralized power.  

  • I cannot at this moment offer a coherent alternative to the clearly problematic and, indeed, dangerous system we now have in place. Things simply must change. But, unlike our current president, I will not embark on a campaign that offers simply a slogan: “Change.” No. Hard work has to be done, and I should be responsible and play my small part. A new theoretical approach (literally, a way of “seeing” our situation) must be developed. I have no doubts that there are insights to be drawn from Marx, but perhaps also by Smith, and certainly by many others. But 18th and 19th century theories will not be adequate to 21st century problems.

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At Group Sex Parties, Strict Rules Make for Safe Spaces – The Atlantic

Now this just raises so many questions.

The first of which is: Why am I never invited to these parties?!

But seriously….At Group Sex Parties, Strict Rules Make for Safe Spaces – The Atlantic.

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Many religions heavily concentrated in one or two countries | Pew Research Center

Have a look at this info-graphic. What is the take-away from seeing how religions tend to be tightly concentrated?

See more:  Many religions heavily concentrated in one or two countries | Pew Research Center.

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Ten Points for a Trade Union Strategy Against Climate Change | The Bullet No. 1039

 The climate struggle is about democratization of the economy and society, redistribution of wealth, the free use of our common knowledge

Ten Points for a Trade Union Strategy Against Climate Change | The Bullet No. 1039.

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More on the People’s Climate March

Here are a few links to article you might want to take a look at concerning the People’s Climate March that was held yesterday, September 21. 

The big question after an event like this is: What happens next? Will this march be a catalyst for change, and if so, what change should we hope for? Are there flaws in the strategy?

So have a look at what others who are asking these questions are saying:

Arun Gupta

 So we have a corporate-designed protest march to support a corporate-dominated world body to implement a corporate policy to counter climate change caused by the corporations of the world, which are located just a few miles away but which will never feel the wrath of the People’s Climate March.
Rather than moaning on the sidelines and venting on Facebook, radicals need to be in the streets. Join the marches and more important the direct actions. Radicals need to ask the difficult questions as to why for the second time in fifteen years has a militant uprising, first Seattle and then Occupy, given way to liberal cooptation. What good is your radical analysis if the NGO sector and Democratic Party fronts kept out-organizing you?

Cory Morningstar

 The oligarchs do not bankroll such a mobilization (via millions of dollars funnelled through foundations) without reason.
There is an agenda. The information that follows makes the agenda very clear and the only thing green about it is the colour of money. The term “green”, in reference to environment is, officially dead.

Lawrence MacDonald 

[on the strategy of “deliberative polling”]


Here is a cheat sheet on how to argue with climate deniers.


Here is a piece from the Wall Street Journal that raises some important (arguable) points. Consider the source (as in every claim in this discussion) but consider the questions, too.


(I may update this post as I find more articles of interest.)

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Speaking plainly is a political act

the political usefulness of a method of analysis is inversely proportional to the time it takes to explain.
wisdom from McKenzie Wark  

Once you’ve been over-educated in our academic system, it is very hard to be plain spoken. I was just discussing this problem with my sister-in-law Joan as she was getting ready to head to the People’s Climate march. She mentioned that from time to time people have shared some books and articles with her, the meanings of which she just could not grasp. Now, Joan is smarter than you are, so the fault is not hers. She is (among many other wonderful things) an activist. We intellectuals are to blame here, I think. I tried to explain the habits of mind and expression that are inculcated during graduate education (especially in the humanities), and that they are very hard to un-learn.  

Further, we — at least I — don’t want to un-learn them completely. I believe that I have learned some things, some real things, in the process of struggling with difficult books and ideas. No doubt, many of the books and ideas I had to deal with were needlessly over-complicated by the vices of academia (one of which is willful desire to be hard to understand, as a mark of “seriousness”). But sometimes, especially when you are working at the boundaries of things, where things are profound but not so clear, it is difficult to put into words what it is that you are seeing, experiencing, discovering. The boundary from prose to poetry gets crossed sometimes before we even know we’ve moved to another country. And trying to speak from that other country, trying to call back over the gulf that opened up between what you used to know and what you can now see, is hard.  

I’d like to think that, as I think philosopher John Searle (himself a plain speaker) put it, if you can’t explain it to someone else you don’t understand it yourself. But I wonder sometimes if there is no other way you can get someone to come over to where you are except to have that person walk the whole way that you did. Must there have been a shortcut? Why didn’t you find it?  

Wark’s wisdom here refers to the political value of theory. A theory — literally, a way of seeing things — may need to be as complex as the reality it is attempting to see. However, to be politically useful — for that theory to have an impact or to serve as a catalyst — it simply has to be accessible in some way to an appropriate number of political actors. Otherwise, the theory falls stillborn.  It could be accessible in the sense of readily comprehensible, or it could be accessible in the sense of serving as a slogan or rallying cry (without its being fully understood). To me, the former is to be preferred, but I admit that the latter might be more immediately effective. I would take Sartre’s existentialism as a good example of the latter, and I suspect examples could be easily multiplied.   

But if the theory is simply murk it is useless politically (if not completely).  

One effective murk generator is literary allusion. Contemporary continental philosophy (a distinctly American thing, actually) is an infamous offender. If the people you want to reach haven’t read what you’ve read, it serves no purpose to assume that they have with your writing. It does no good to rely heavily on proper names in lieu of full explanations (however much that can be a timesaver with the cognoscenti).  

A friend of mine, an august personage in the sphere of continental philosophy, once suggested that the Society of Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy (SPEP) ban the use of proper names at its conferences — at least for a year. There were no takers.  

And this friend of mine (I won’t embarrass him by associating his good name with mine) is a fine example of what I am driving at. I have learned a great deal from his books, and he has tried on occasion to write books for a more “popular” (read: non-academic) audience — books that I think are wonderful, really. But when I try to pass them on to others, they get little response. It is very frustrating to me. He has always made it a great point to try to make the difficult European thinkers “speak English,” as he puts it. And that has worked wonders for us graduate students and fellow academics. We owe him a debt. But his own writing — even his “popular” writing — is still too murky with allusion for the “non-academic” (read: the very, very small number of people who have read the same small set of books).  

And in times like these, when there is such a demand for philosophy to be “relevant” (and people really ought to be careful what they wish for…), all of us academic writers need to pay heed to MacKenzie Wark.

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