The Dream Café

Steven Brust: “A masterful storyteller of contagious glee and self-deprecating badassery” —Skyler White

The Worker and the Liberal

| 192 Comments

Let me tell you a story. The individual family farmer, because of his precarious position in capitalist society, will of necessity develop a very careful attitude toward money—those who fail to develop this attitude don’t last long as farmers. This attitude easily becomes part of the farmer’s character, with the result that, often, they are relatively poor tippers. No one who understands their conditions can blame them for this, but, justified or not, it becomes an assumption. Back when I was working at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, it was simply accepted wisdom, and, because performers often survive on tips, farmers were generally spoken of scornfully.

One day, sitting around with a few people, a band-mate made an insulting remark about farmers, and my friend Maria promptly said, “Just don’t say that with food in your mouth.” Zing.

Now I’m going to change the subject.

40 years ago, a conversation like this was not uncommon:
“Yes, I’m prejudiced against black men. I’m a white woman, and if you’d been harassed by black men as often as I have, you’d be prejudiced too.”

Or perhaps you’d have heard this:
“Mexicans are lazy. You can argue as much as you want, but I’ve worked with them, and I know.”

Or maybe this:
“You just can’t count on women in high-pressure jobs. They get emotional and make bad decisions. I’m basing this on my own experience.”

Today, hearing things like that makes the bile rise in our throats. We understand, at least more than we did, the way personal experience can be warped by confirmation bias, by prejudice picked up from media and popular culture, and perhaps we even understand how statements like that both reflect and sustain ignorance and bigotry and oppression. Anyone saying those things today would be liable to get, at a minimum, a cold glare by most of us. And rightly so.

“Blue collar workers are bigots and sexists. I know, I’ve worked with them.”

When I’ve seen the above statement on social media, it has generally gone by without a challenge. Think about that for a minute.  If you pat yourself on the back for “calling out” racism and sexism, but either say or permit statements like the above, think about whose work you’re doing by accepting and perpetuating these stereotypes.  Ever seen “All In The Family?” It was one of the first efforts in popular culture to create this image of the working class, and it was a lie then, and it is a lie now, and when that show came out it was never challenged by liberalism, because it fit in with their agenda. Workers are stupid and bigoted, so it is perfectly okay to continue rising in society by stepping on them, and we can also cheerfully mock them as their living standards are slashed and their children are sent off to die in imperialist wars.

But if you really do have to make an insulting and degrading remark about workers, just don’t do so while you’re using anything that was created by human labor.

skzb

Author: skzb

I play the drum.

192 Comments

  1. All I can say is that my experience working with blacks and minorities, blue collar workers and women coworkers has been consistently very positive. Maybe because I think we are all human and deserve respect. I’ve also learned that I am never so smart that somebody else can’t teach me something.

    I have a relative who is a farmer. It looks simple, but there is a lot to know, that I don’t know.

  2. You need a “subscribe” or a “like” button so people who want to follow the comments can subscribe without having to leave a stupid comment like this one. But since I’m writing anyway, well said, and good on Maria!

  3. What Wil said!

    But no, my collar’s been blue just as often as it’s been white, and the spread of bigotry has remained about the same regardless. White-collar bigotry is less coarse, and spoken quieter, in code, but it occurs at the same frequency and intensity – plus they get to be contemptuous of the poor, too!

    It’s possible, although it seems unlikely, that perhaps some people who mouth these sentiments simply haven’t managed to decode the wink-nudge racism, sexism, and homophobia of their classmates. If so it seems a willful blindness, but I can’t be sure.

  4. Well said, Mr. Brust. I was raised in a middle class family with upper-middle class roots on my mother’s side and working class on my father’s. Grew up in the suburbs, was expected to go to college and did, but had artistic interests and have held a wide variety of mostly clerical and working class day jobs for most of my adult life.

    My working class co-workers are mainly decent people. Not all of them speak English well. In conversation, some of the immigrant men interrupt me without apology or seeming to notice but others are very grateful for tips on using the language correctly. Most are hard workers. They all certainly deserve respect.

  5. It is so easy to condemn others for not being like us, and to resent it when they do the same to us. It takes work to not only recognize this but to actually continuously monitor and improve our attitudes here.

  6. Here’s my experience working along side of both “blue” and “white” collar people: I worked in low level office jobs, in restaurant kitchens and as a NYC taxi driver over a long period. I was raised in a middle class family (not upper) and my father’s determination allowed me to go to an Ivy league college. But failed to graduate with my class )1956) due to “incompletes” and involvement in the socialist (Trotskyist) movement in NYC. During that time I worked in offices mostly as a “mail clerk”, later in restaurants as a dishwasher and “salad man”. In one job as a mail clerk, two of my co-workers were very nice and smart married women, one Puerto-Rican (NY rican), the other African American whose husband was a NYC firefighter. They were both immensely down to earth and taught me a lot about doing the work. In terms of life experience and practical smarts, they were far ahead of me. We had a great mutual relationship. Later, I worked in kitchens with an assortment of mostly “minority” guys, many Hispanic. They had so much to teach a relative novice like me. Mostly they were generous and we had great relationships. A few years later, I started driving a cab and went back to school to complete my degree, In the “shape ups” I had contact with a great variety of drivers including those like me (students, “artists”, musicians, etc.) and regular family men. One or two women were also regulars. Again, although intellectually I could have many discussions –some political– with guys with similar backgrounds to mine. But almost entirely the guys were all very practical and “Intelligent”. Race prejudice, if it existed was not open and in fact there was a common bond amongst black, Hispanic and “white” drivers as well as mechanics. I learned that “intelligence” comes in many forms and at least during those years -late ’50s through end of ’70s– I rarely encountered “Archie Bunker” types. I am not glorifying workers, but my experience with them has been more rewarding than with super-sophisticated middle class intellectuals and professionals. But, even there, after (at a late age) I became a lawyer, I met some solid decent people. Throughout all these experiences, there were some “bad-apples”, but overall my experience has allowed me to had a good relations with working class people I now meet in various casual situations.

  7. If you want to learn a lot about modern farming, watch the film “On Her Own” made by my friend Morgan Schmidt-Feng:

    https://onherownfilm.com/

    You will think differently ever after.

  8. Naomi Stone, above, seems to have had an upbringing much the same as mine. And she’s right.

  9. skzb

    Thanks for all the comments and insights about your experiences.

  10. Don’t forget – workers are stupid and bigoted, so its perfectly okay for me to decide what they really need regardless of what they say they need.

  11. The message from the corporate-owned media and Hollywood/cable/network television complex is that the poor and working stiffs are beneath contempt, ignorant, lazy, stupid, and, frankly, genetically inferior. Kurt Vonnegut wrote years ago that no society in history has tried to shame the poor to the extent it is done in the United States. (Land of the Free). The only people whose opinion matters, goes the lie, are these smart, rich millionairs and billionairs.

    That said, “All in the Family’ was ten times the show compared to most everything vomited out by the broadcast and cable networks presently. Norman Lear used Archie Bunker’s character as a straw man. Archie almost always had to face how his backwards attitudes offended others. Bunker was also surrounded by voices of reason who showed him constantly why he was wrong. Carrol O’Conner, who played Archie, was wise to the dodge. In real life, he was nothing like his character and marched for civil rights and aided progressive causes of all stripes.

  12. Kragar, do you remember where Vonnegut wrote that?

    As for “All in the Family,” I have fond memories of it, too, but my memory is its targets were racists and sexists. If there was anything about the ruling class, I’m not remembering it. Which could just say a lot about who I was then, of course.

  13. Sorry but you failed to change the subject.

    Also in my opinion, “All in the Family” was structured to point out how wrong headed Archie Bunker types were. As I recall Archie was constantly having to defend his views in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary all around him. The comedy came out of his insisting he was right when everyone “knew” he was wrong.

    Just my $.02

  14. Will S.–

    The quote I was thinking about comes from Slaughterhouse Five. Obviously I did not do it justice, as I can’t write as well as Vonnegut or szkb:

    “America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves. To quote the American humorist Kin Hubbard, ‘It ain’t no disgrace to be poor, but it might as well be.’ It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by the American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters. The meanest eating or drinking establishment, owned by a man who is himself poor, is very likely to have a sign on its wall asking this cruel question: ‘if you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?’ There will also be an American flag no larger than a child’s hand – glued to a lollipop stick and flying from the cash register.

    Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue. Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say Napoleonic times. Many novelties have come from America. The most startling of these, a thing without precedent, is a mass of undignified poor. They do not love one another because they do not themselves.”

    Written decades ago, but I think, still quite true to this day.

  15. Kragar, very true, and I thank you for tracking it down. I’ll quote it at my blog now.

  16. Vonnegut had a parable about Einstein and Heaven. Everyone who enters the afterlife is given a list of all the opportunities they had to be rich and happy, but missed. Einstein ponders this and concludes the wealth supposedly on offer exceeds the mass of the universe. The angels inform him that if he tells anyone about this, they will take his violin away; so he shuts up. I think it was in “Jailbird,” which also had the memorable ” a lot of good people can’t make it on the outside.”

  17. skzb

    A couple people now have missed the point about “All In the Family.” Of *course* Archie Bunker was wrong. That’s exactly the point of the show. The “typical American worker” and look how stupid and bigoted he is. Let’s point and laugh. It actually started with a show called “Steptoe and Son” which performed the same service in England.

  18. “Steptoe and Son” was the progenitor of “Sanford and Son.” The British show “All in the Family” was based on was “Til Death to Us Part.” There was more than some truth to Archie Bunker. My father and uncles were all working class ethnic-Americans (Irish-Catholic). One of the reasons they all hated the show was that Archie hit too close to home, so it’s not like Norman Lear was creating an unrealistic caricature. He was basing the relationships on what was happening around dinner tables in America.

    To address your point, I don’t think AitF was intended as an attack on the working class. Remember, Meathead isn’t the good guy either. He’s a smug, lazy know it all, who sometimes comes off worse in his dealings with Archie. I think the intention was to build bridges. Clearly, this was not successful, possibly due to the inherent flaws of the left-liberal worldview.

  19. I’m getting a little confused. Is the OP point that we should not make unjustified (or justified?) negative generalizations about blue-collar workers (or any other class)?

    But this is followed by a negative generalization about presumably white-collar “liberals” who supposedly get it off by belittling blue-collar workers. So to use the OP meme, don’t criticize liberals or white-collar workers if you use products or benefit from their efforts.

    There are plenty of examples of negative stereotypes for any group of people as well as positive examples. That makes discussions based on stereotypes really difficult, if there is to be any value (other than catharsis) to the discussion.

    I have always considered myself to be a working class person, even when I was in a management position. I was never afraid to roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty or help with the work.

    The GOP does enough “liberal bashing” that we don’t need to join in the chorus.

    skzb seems to think of all liberals and progressives as lukewarm, insincere, fair-weather, self-serving, sort-of semi socialistic shallow thinkers. And then there is the negative stuff.

  20. skzb

    David: Listen carefully now, because this is going to be complicated:
    “Blue collar worker” refers to how an individual makes a living.
    “Liberal” refers to an individual’s political stance.
    Generalizing about the politics of people who hold a political position is not the same as generalizing about the personal attitudes of a socio-economic group.
    k?

  21. Actually no. Generalizing is generalizing. You might just as well have said, “generalizing about blacks is ok because it is a personal characteristic and not the way they make a living.” You are saying that your calling someone “Liberal” somehow defines that person exactly and your stereotypes apply. It really doesn’t matter if it is politics or the color of their hair. I shouldn’t have to explain this.

    Other than that, how close was I? ;>)

  22. Can I further unpack the discussion regarding “All in the Family,” mostly for my own benefit? Archie Bunker is a caricature. He is a person who makes his living doing a blue-collar job. The character, as portrayed, is intended to be negative because he has bigoted and backward reactions to the changes occurring in the world around him. (Women getting jobs; minority persons integrating and taking leadership positions; general resistance to and disrespect for authority; young people refusing to join the “rat race”). For Steve’s purposes, the artistic merit of the show is subsumed because it is irrelevant, or because, even when performed artfully, such artistic attacks on perceptions of those in the working class are just insulting.

  23. skzb

    David: In other words, we cannot judge someone’s politics by that person’s politics. Quite. There is nothing I can say to this enormity that highlights its absurdity any more than you’ve already done.

    Kragar: Yes, that is it exactly. And, worse, in much of what passes for “left” culture, that is perfectly okay. Look at Dennis’s comment above. “One of the reason’s they all hated the show was that Archie hit too close to home.” If these had been negative stereotypes about women, gays, or a racial minority, how much outrage would that comment have produced? But it’s about workers, so that makes it all right.

  24. skzb, you really work hard to misunderstand stuff you don’t want to understand. You have a strawman you call liberal politics and act as if everyone you chose to call a liberal fits that stereotype of your invention. That is absurdity. You know better.

  25. skzb

    evergreen: There was some discussion of it on Facebook, but it’s appropriate here, too. Thanks for the link.

  26. You stated, “– it was never challenged by liberalism, because it fit in with their agenda. Workers are stupid and bigoted, so it is perfectly okay to continue rising in society by stepping on them, — ”

    “Liberalism is a political philosophy or worldview founded on ideas of liberty and equality.”

    You have a very distorted picture of liberalism. In your world view, you seen to have substituted liberals for the bourgeoisie that you hate so much. A view where you think liberals are deliberately oppressing the labor classes for their own financial gain. You are confusing liberals with the GOP.

  27. Pretty smug article. Liberals are damned if they do, damned if they don’t. The GOP had nothing to do with the situation.

  28. skzb: “In other words, we cannot judge someone’s politics by that person’s politics.”

    I really hate for people to try to interpret me rather than ask what I mean, so this is me being hypocritical because I’m pretty sure I get what Mr. Hajicek is saying and I’m going to take a stab at rephrasing it. (Apologies in advance if I’m wrong.)

    “Liberal” is not a political statement. It’s not a platform, a party or a set of standards one swears to uphold. Making sweeping generalizations about all liberals is nonsensical because all liberals do not behave the same way or have the same aims, any more than all socialists do, or all conservatives. If you want to blast Democrats, Bolsheviks, Republicans, Objectivists, Libertarians etc. then go for it. They’re fair game, having joined a party and sworn, either implicitly or explicitly, to support specific theories, practices and goals.

    You can certainly judge a person’s politics, but that’s not what you do when you say liberals have an agenda, and they welcomed “All in the Family” “because it fit in with their agenda. Workers are stupid and bigoted.” That comment may be taking a well deserved swipe at a specific group – I don’t know which, but it doesn’t matter – but it’s an inaccurate portrayal of liberals as a whole. In 1971, when the show debuted, some liberals were getting tossed in jail for protesting wars, some were being killed for insisting blacks were people too, some were being attacked for daring to insist that everyone had the same rights under the Constitution, some were being beaten to a pulp for suggesting marriage does not make rape legal. If others expressed disdain for a particular segment of society, that’s on them and their party, not on all liberals.

    As for that thing at Vox, his anger is palpable, but his poor reasoning, lack of focus and lousy writing make it impossible to take anything he says seriously (“Unable to countenance the real causes of their collapse, they will comfort with own impotence by shouting, ‘Idiots!’ again and again, angrier and angrier, the handmaidens of their own destruction.”).

    What aspect of this article do you feel is appropriate to your point?

  29. L. Raymond. Right on. Thank you.

  30. David, I suspect I won’t help, but that’s never stopped me from trying, so here goes: From a socialist perspective, liberals are the other half of capitalism. Sometimes they’re actually nicer than conservatives, sometimes they’re more hypocritical, but at best, what liberals want is a gentler economic pyramid. Socialists want to flatten the pyramid. Because socialists are concerned with injustice in general, sometimes we can work with liberals, and sometimes even with conservatives, on issues like racism and sexism and slavery. But liberals cannot work with us on ending exploitation because they accept it as either natural or desirable or both.

    When we’re talking about worldviews, it’s easy for people to assume that by criticizing, we’re demonizing, but that’s not necessarily the case. Humans are often good and wrong at the same time.

  31. In the liberal worldview, the socialist intention of flattening the pyramid is likely to do more harm than help in the long run, revolutions being as messy as they seem to be, with power vacuums bringing about unanticipated aftermaths. In the liberal worldview, it’s so much horseshit to say socialists have a monopoly on caring about all injustice & exploitation – many, if not most, if not all liberals want the same thing, but are unconvinced that socialist solutions will work. The big difference I see is most liberals I know don’t self-righteously pretend to that monopoly, or to believe they have it right & socialists have it wrong. The liberals I see are still searching for answers, and not convinced anyone has found one that works. I’m open to socialism; in fact, I lean more socialist every year. But I am yet unconvinced, & the smugness of socialism looks more like blind self-justification than judicious examination to me. I don’t think any oppression as natural or desirable. I’m a liberal, not a socialist (at this time). I work with socialists just fine, & frequently. I appreciate socialist attempts to quantify politics & economics in something like scientific language & observation, but I don’t believe the socialist model is any more accurate than, say, Freud’s model of the human psyche. And I dislike mischaracterizations of my worldview.

  32. Will, that makes sense. As Matt says, liberals generally just want to make things better. Worker ownership might be one solution, but not the only one.

  33. Perhaps the word “liberal” in this discussion should be replaced with “liberal elite.” For clarity. I, too, slogged through the entire vox article. vox has been pro-Clinton during this cycle’s addition of the national political theater of the absurd we call the presidential election. So the vox folks are at least attempting to speak for the liberal elite. But maybe workers have lost enthusiasm for the Democratic Party not because of smug belittling but because it left them out in the cold with policies that enabled the investor class to capture nearly all of the nation’s wealth over the last 30 years.

  34. David, conservatives generally just want to make things better too. The question is who benefits most, and under capitalism, the answer that liberals and conservatives offer, in slightly different ways, is “the people at the top.”

    Matt, I will note that democratic socialists work for peaceful change. But as for how self-aware liberals are, my favorite Upton Sinclair quote applies: ‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.’

    As for smugness, I doubt there’s a worldview that doesn’t include people who’re smug, but sometimes smugness is imposed where it does not exist.

  35. Will, can you actually give me a breakdown of whose salaries depend on that? Must not be union jobs…

    Are we counting democratic socialists as socialists, then? Because if so, I might count as a socialist, and still think this characterization of liberals comes off as unbearably self-justifying. But I thought democratic socialists were still tarred by the same brush as other capitalist collaborators in a world where members of a given class necessarily and consciously work to carry out the agenda of that class (which may be a straw man, but not intentionally, I’m basing this off of various remarks people have made here about Bernie Sanders).

  36. Matt, would that we were all fully self-aware.

    The conventional breakdown from right to left is something like fascist to conservative to liberal to social democrat to democratic socialist to authoritarian socialist. Mind you, none of those are hard divisions; it’s possible to straddle them. Steve and I disagree about where Sanders fits–I think he’s a democratic socialist who is advocating social democrat programs because he believes in slow and steady progress, while Steve thinks he’s a stooge for neoliberals. Steve’s a Trotskyite, which means he’s not opposed to democratic change but thinks it is highly unlikely (apologies, Steve, if I’m mischaracterizing you here); I’m a democratic socialist who doesn’t see any way for the US to change except via democracy. Some people talk about The Communist Manifesto calling for violent revolution, but it doesn’t; it says:

    “…the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class to win the battle of democracy.”

  37. You missed “moderates.” I’d call myself a “democratic socialist” also.

  38. Or social democrat.

  39. “Moderate” in the US is in the overlap between conservative and liberal that’s most often used to describe conservatives, I think: “moderate Republican”. Like “progressive”, it’s a word with associations, but it doesn’t actually pin anyone down to anything. Since Clinton has been claiming “progressive”, the two words may mean the same thing.

  40. skzb

    L. Raymond’s clarification does, indeed, make things clearer, but I still don’t agree.

    Perhaps we need a #NotAllLiberals hastag?

    Please consider my original post.My social media feeds consist almost entirely of people who identify as liberals or leftists. It is not uncommon to see statements such as “Blue collar workers are bigots and sexists. I know, I’ve worked with them” (although, perhaps significantly, this last month there haven’t been as many such statements as there were hitherto). But, in any case, they go by unchallenged. Why is that?

    Let us look at this comment thread. Look at Dennis’s comment time-stamped 26 April 2016 at 3:29 pm. If that had been about a TV show that was propagating stereotypes of gays, or women, or African-Americans, what would have happened? Yet none of those on this thread who have been saying “not all liberals” made a single remark about it.

  41. skzb, why is a remark about Archie Bunker required? I thought you guys covered it pretty well. When I watched the show, it sure wasn’t to try to make myself feel superior. I didn’t see Archie as the stereotypical model of the blue-collar class, even if that was an intention of the producer. He was what he was. But that was a long time ago.

    We preferred Married With Children. I suppose you could analyze that show in a similar way. But we never did. Same with The Honeymooners, with Jackie Gleason.

  42. skzb

    I didn’t say a remark about Archie Bunker is required. I pointed to someone who perfectly expressed the sort of comment I’m making: who as much as said blue collar workers are sexist and racist. Someone said it in these comments. I want to know why none of the people saying “not all liberals” saw fit to take issue with that comment. In other words, it is an example of exactly what the post is about.

  43. To clarify, I did not say “blue collar workers are sexist and racist.” I said, “I grew up around blue collar workers who were sexist and racist.” (Technically, the word I would use is bigoted, since none of them were racists as I understand the word.)

    The point I was trying to get at is that there is a germ of truth in the character. There are many members or the working class who hold reactionary views. There are many more who don’t. The idea that the result of 60s and 70s culture was to separate the working class from the Left is IMO, correct. The idea that the *goal* of that culture is problematic. The idea that various reactionary forces took advantage of what was well-intentioned to ensure that wedge was driven is valid, and also probably correct.

  44. My point obviously wasn’t that “the working class is sexist and racist,” but rather that I know working class people who were sexist and racist–i.e., members of my extended family. (Technically, the word I would use is bigoted. The example I liked to give was that the only group my dad hated more than the Panthers was the KKK.) Pretending such people don’t exist isn’t any more useful than tarring the whole group.

    I’m perfectly willing to concede that the *result* of the 60s/70s culture was to divide the working class from the Left. I’m not willing to concede that that was the *goal*, which seems to be part of the point of this post. Did N. Lear set out to isolate the working class with ALL IN THE FAMILY? I don’t think so. Did someone in the capitalist class see and take advantage of the possibilities? Almost certainly. It’s a clear distinction, though I’m not sure how much value it has.

  45. On reflection, I think it’s pretty clear that I missed the forest for the trees in my original comment. I absolutely agree with the point that dismissing the working class as racist and sexist is wrong and divisive, just as stereotyping blacks or Mexicans would be.

    The smaller points I tried to make can be part of a good discussion, I think, but the larger point shouldn’t be in argument.

  46. skzb: “Perhaps we need a #NotAllLiberals hastag?”

    If there are people who can’t live without labeling everything, then by all means we should encourage them to use that. It’ll help identify a segment some might want to avoid.

    “Please consider my original post. My social media feeds consist almost entirely of people who identify as liberals or leftists. It is not uncommon to see statements such as ‘Blue collar workers are bigots and sexists. I know, I’ve worked with them’ (although, perhaps significantly, this last month there haven’t been as many such statements as there were hitherto). But, in any case, they go by unchallenged. Why is that?”

    Beats me. Maybe your feed is peopled by hypocrites, poseurs and/or outrage junkies.

    “Let us look at this comment thread. Look at Dennis’s comment time-stamped 26 April 2016 at 3:29 pm. If that had been about a TV show that was propagating stereotypes of gays, or women, or African-Americans, what would have happened? Yet none of those on this thread who have been saying ‘not all liberals’ made a single remark about it.”

    I personally didn’t find it worthy of comment. He made a reference to his family and their opinions, not his own opinion as to the lack of worthiness of a huge segment of humanity.

    And even if he had come right out and said, “Boy, welders sure are stupid, aren’t they?” it’s very possible someone wouldn’t feel the urge to respond in the manner you want in the forum you want at the time you want to see it. I know I would ignore such a crack today since I’m a little a cranky, after a flood level reaching the 500 year record mark last week poured into my house and a tornado woke me this morning before dawn just after the power went off so I couldn’t check to see if whatever smacked the house hard enough the shake my ground floor bed did any structural damage. Even though there was no new water in the backroom before I left for work, there might be some when I get home since I delayed cleaning out the pipe which collects the water from the backyard after watching a water moccasin sun itself on the sewer grating it connects to, and I don’t know if it’ll drain another few inches of rain. Of course, others may have their own reasons for not jumping when, where and how you think is appropriate. De gustibus etc.

  47. Exactly. I originally chimed in to state that my experience of working people indicated they were no more discriminatory than anyone else – having already said so, I didn’t see the need to immediately restate when someone differed.

  48. skzb

    This is hard to say without making it appear like I’m picking on Dennis, which I don’t want to do, or pointing fingers at various people, which I’m also trying to avoid. But then, we notice in the threads about, for example, sexism how difficult it is to avoid pointing fingers when “calling out” examples; in most cases I’ve seen, they don’t try to avoid pointing fingers, but I’d prefer to see if I can make the general point without getting more personal than I already have.

    What I’m trying to make clear is that, in our culture (by which I mean, the heavily science-fiction influenced and generally leftist corner of the social media universe) people tend to pass by examples of stereotyping workers in ways they would never think to, and couldn’t get away with, if it were other groups.

    My agenda here has two items: One, I think it worthwhile if we can all be more aware of this, and start noticing it when it happens. Two, I think it is worth giving some thought to why this is the case, and whose interest it serves.

  49. Well, obviously I was a shade stressed earlier. So if you’ll forgive the pre-hot meal, cold drink and mega-dose of chocolate post, I’ll try again.

    When you ask what to think about people in your feeds who behave in ways you think goes against how they identify themselves, I’d say, first, that they’re either liars, hypocrites or poseurs and second, that you should be asking yourself why you believe what they say about themselves anyway.

    You have to have noticed a lot of people online will claim to be something they’re not, and when they’re called on it, they’ll typically either try to bluster their way out of it – I am defending Group X in an article/on my blog/in a debate at The Liberal Lefty and who have you defended lately and my best friend is a welder and blah blah blah – or they’ll claim to have been trolling you, engaging in performance art, doing a social experiment or whatever other euphemism for being an asshole they favor. The very few who’ll respond reasonably, whether they disagree with you or not, are probably sincere in their beliefs. In short, if you’re being disappointed by the people in your feeds, I think you need to separate the sheep from the goats and learn whom to ignore.

    As for something that was said in an earlier comment, someone may not consider it appropriate to respond the way she wants to. I didn’t read Mr. Freeman’s comment until you drew attention to it because I tend to ignore any comment that either starts with or is primarily a personal anecdote, a little foible of mine. Of course, I’ve never claimed to be a liberal, so your question wasn’t really aimed at me, but I know of many reasons why someone might choose not to call out what you consider offensive behavior whenever and wherever it appears. One is the forum may not be right – someone may want to respond too strongly someplace that has a “be nice” tone requirement. Also, the format could be irritating, the character limit too stifling or the response may require someone to go so far afield from the OP that she decides not to bother.

    Speaking of far afield, Married…With Children’s first season Christmas episode is absolutely the finest holiday special I’ve ever seen.

    I am sorry about that earlier comment. Chocolate makes everything better.

  50. skzb

    No problem, and yes it does.

  51. Scalzi and most of the commenters on Whatever are a) generally nice people; b) consider themselves reasonably progressive and c) blame the working class for voting Republican and summoning the Demon Trump. They continue to do so in the face of all empirical evidence, which either contradicts that view or is at least very ambiguous.

    So yes, I think Mr. Brust’s post fairly describes a large segment of liberal opinion these days.

  52. Private, it’s interesting that you mention that they are nice people because I agree they mostly are (with a definition of “nice” that lets them be vicious to those they consider heretics) and because “niceness” is highly valued by liberals. Just as organized religion assures the rich that they are good, neoliberalism assures the rich that they are nice.

  53. skzb: “What I’m trying to make clear is that, in our culture (by which I mean, the heavily science-fiction influenced and generally leftist corner of the social media universe) people tend to pass by examples of stereotyping workers in ways they would never think to, and couldn’t get away with, if it were other groups.”

    This is totally different from what you appeared to be asking. So rather than questioning the behavior of people who identify as liberals in American society at large, you’re questioning the motives of people who favor a certain genre of fiction, identify as holding specific position on the political spectrum and congregate around the same sorts of feeds via specific online forums?

    First, please tell me you’ve seen this video.

    Second, my knee jerk would be to blame herd instinct. If all these people strongly identify with this specific sub-sub-sub-sub-group, many are probably afraid to be the first to speak up and thus stand out when someone derogates group X, and they’ll wait for others to get the ball rolling.

    “My agenda here has two items: One, I think it worthwhile if we can all be more aware of this, and start noticing it when it happens. Two, I think it is worth giving some thought to why this is the case, and whose interest it serves.”

    Why does it have to serve anyone’s interest? Apathy, different values, different perspectives, not having seen/read a specific news item or post or any of a number of other reasons could account for people not reacting in thy way you think they should. There isn’t necessarily an interest being served. Or do you mean there are people who are willing to take advantage of this lack of reaction, and that you think these people need to be identified?

  54. skzb

    L. Raymond: I had not seen that! Thank you.

  55. Neo-liberal and liberal are not the same thing. There seems to be some confusion. Go ahead and bash Neo-Liberalism as a cause of way too many problems in this country. It is Neo-Conservatism wearing lipstick.

  56. David, they’re related; I just told someone today that neoliberalism is to liberalism as Christianity is to Judaism. I like your lipstick line a lot, but outside the US, neoliberalism is the general term, and neoconservatives are its right wing.

  57. Well, it certainly is complex and confusing: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neoliberalism

    Also known as “laissez-faire economic liberalism”. Which is a political school of economic thought from 1930’s political “liberals”. Liberal in this context (meaning freedom) is to remove government constraints on business and banking. The welfare of the people is not a goal of this political school. The austerity movement in Europe harms people to benefit big banks.

    Today’s liberals and liberalism, also known as social liberalism, is a different animal entirely: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberalism This is concern for the welfare of people, not for big business. I think most of the people today who call themselves Liberals, are really social liberals. Perhaps more in common with socialists than with any form of conservatism or neo-liberalism. Yes, Clinton is a neo-liberal.

    Pretty much only thing in common is the word “Liberal”.

  58. Neolibealism is a hot subject now, prob’ly thanks to the contrast between Sanders and Clinton. This is good: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/04/chait-neoliberal-new-inquiry-democrats-socialism/

    Excerpt that seems especially relevant here:

    Michael Harrington’s The Other America, for example, treated the poor not as a central part of the political economy, as the New Deal did. The poor were superfluous to that economy: there was America, which was middle-class and mainstream; there was the “other,” which was poor and marginal. The Great Society declared a War on Poverty, which was thought to be a project different from managing and regulating the economy.

    On the other hand, Peters showed how potent, and potently disabling, that kind of thinking could be. In the hands of neoliberalism, it became fashionable to pit the interests of the poor not against the power of the wealthy but against the unionized working class.

  59. skzb, “My agenda here has two items: One, I think it worthwhile if we can all be more aware of this, and start noticing it when it happens. Two, I think it is worth giving some thought to why this is the case, and whose interest it serves.”

    The first part is a noble goal.

    I’m not aware of what purpose or interest it might serve. One might as well ask that question about the liberal bashing going on here. It appears that liberals are bad people because they are not socialists. But ignore that for now.

    There is the genuine problem that most liberals and social liberals and liberal socialists, and maybe even true socialists, do not understand the working class. Particularly, they do not understand why so many working class people (especially down South) vote the way that they do. It is a cheap shot to blame these “smug liberals” for “looking down” on these people. Sure, some do. It’s an easy trap to fall into. I’ve been guilty at times of feeling this way. But the real problem is not “smugness” or a feeling of superiority. The real problem is ignorance, an ignorance perpetuated by political parties and the media.

    So us Northern liberals scratch our heads and might say, “it doesn’t make sense, they are voting against their self interest.” Well sure, it doesn’t make sense to us. It makes perfect sense to those working class people and they believe they are voting for their self interest. They have been disrespected and moved into an economic/religious/social box with few options. Between few opportunities, death spiral job competition, fundamental religious upbringing, etc, they believe that their ability to improve their situation is pretty limited, and vote accordingly on the few things they feel they have some control over.

    Are many of them bigoted? Well yeah. Same with all other social classes. With the working classes, (maybe this is your point skzb) they are often deliberately put in a position where they are encouraged to be bigoted, for economic purposes. They are told that they are in direct competition for jobs against blacks and other minorities. So shut up, keep your head down, work harder for less money, or we’ll give the job to a minority who will work cheaper. This gets internalized.

    I’m not sure what role “liberals” (not neo-liberals) have in this, or how we could possibly benefit by putting down blue-collar workers. Sure, some people like to think they are smarter (“smug liberals”). Maybe they have never actually worked along side blue collar workers.

    Social liberals want to improve working conditions, health care, minimum wage, right to vote, retirement, etc. Those things should improve everybody’s situation.

  60. Actually, the southern working class is pretty much like the working class elsewhere. The only Krugman piece I share often: http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/09/24/bubba-isnt-who-you-think/?_r=0

  61. David Hajicek: “Particularly, they do not understand why so many working class people (especially down South) vote the way that they do. It is a cheap shot to blame these ‘smug liberals’ for ‘looking down’ on these people. Sure, some do. It’s an easy trap to fall into. I’ve been guilty at times of feeling this way.

    So us Northern liberals scratch our heads and might say, ‘it doesn’t make sense, they are voting against their self interest.’ Well sure, it doesn’t make sense to us. It makes perfect sense to those working class people and they believe they are voting for their self interest.”

    You’d probably be interested in Thomas Frank’s book “What’s the Matter with Kansas”, which “unravels the great political mystery of our day: Why do so many Americans vote against their economic and social interests?” (from the back cover). Part of it is very personal, as the author talks about he grew up a well-off, upper middle class white kid who was absolutely convinced he was part of the working class, along with his dad’s CEO friends and banker buddies. Understanding how his community could see themselves like that is illuminating. In one section after comparing the conservative Republicans to the moderate ones, whom the conservative wing calls “liberal”, he summarizes himself very well in one sentence: “But such people aren’t liberal. What they are is corporate.”

  62. L. Raymond, LIKE. We need a button. To the fascists, everyone to the left is a liberal or worse, a socialist!

    Maybe we need better ways of defining what / who the “working class” people are. The primary thing I can think of is whether you are paid by the hour or piece vs a salary. My son does CNC programming, and an awful lot of the people he hangs with on line talk like rednecks. Too many are “contractors or consultants”, and get paid by the job or hour. So getting grease or dirt under your fingernails may not be a requirement to be a “working class” person.

    I don’t know where artists, writers and guitar makers fall in this scheme of things. ;>)

    As someone in another string pointed out, we come up with labels for people to try to make understanding and dealing with them easier. Sometimes that doesn’t work too well.

  63. “Maybe we need better ways of defining what / who the ‘working class’ people are. The primary thing I can think of is whether you are paid by the hour or piece vs a salary. My son does CNC programming, and an awful lot of the people he hangs with on line talk like rednecks. Too many are ‘contractors or consultants’, and get paid by the job or hour. So getting grease or dirt under your fingernails may not be a requirement to be a ‘working class’ person.”

    Basically, I think it would depend on how you think it would make it easier to understand the group you’re redefining. That is, why do you want the clarity? Knowing that, it should be easier for you to isolate the pertinent qualities to emphasize.

    If you want to define people who earn a living by their work as working class vs. those whose only source of income is investment related, a salaried employee is working class. If you use only hourly vs. salaried, where would investors fit?

    Do you want to include apparent social class (redneck) as part of the economic class label?

    Artists et al. are just the same as anyone else – they work freelance or for an employer. Was Thomas Edison working class? If yes, then so is any artist who creates on spec.

    And so on.

  64. Investors fit at the top of the current pyramid, and it’s getting steeper all the time. Some investors even consider themselves to be liberal.

  65. I was thinking about skzb’s attempts to define a working class for inclusion in a new socialist movement to take control of the country. Also the discussion about liberals supposedly looking down on working class people. As if it is impossible for a working class person to be a liberal or for a liberal to be working class.

    So just trying to understand who we are talking about.

    People living on investments would probably not fit skzb’s idea of working class. They are part of the owner class. But even that gets fuzzy these days.

  66. “I was thinking about skzb’s attempts to define a working class for inclusion in a new socialist movement to take control of the country. Also the discussion about liberals supposedly looking down on working class people.”

    If you want to define an economic class to take violent control of the US, you’d have to include such qualities as idealistic. If you mean take over via the voting booth, then I think it’s more important how people think of themselves than how others define them. Election propaganda aimed at “the working class” protrays them as honest, loyal, hardworking and competent at everything, which is why so many people in white collar jobs think of themselves as working class.

    Then there’s the overlap with those who receive investment income. Would a linesman with ten thousand dollars invested in a company still be working class? How about an electrician with a 401(k) filled with $500,000 in company stock? Can there be a bright line between working class and capitalist?

    To my mind, attempting to define a group for inclusion into a political movement is utterly dehumanizing. The person creating the definition is deciding on the only correct belief for millions people and by association condemning millions more by saying they’re in this class but not behaving how they should.

  67. White collar workers are working class. To be part of the bourgeoisie, you have to own the means of production. To exactly what degree can be argued about–I would say you have to own enough that you could live on comfortably.

    As for letting people define themselves, in the US, everyone’s middle class and above average.

  68. You guys understand the problem of class definitions, be they political or economic.

  69. Maybe this belongs in some other thread and I won’t mind if it gets moved there.

    https://www.facebook.com/coffeeparty/posts/10154847469693327

    People in this thread are arguing about capitalism and what it’s good for and who it’s good for. And some of them are saying that capitalism is *just fine* but we’ve never really had capitalism, instead we’ve had one thing or another, bad things that we get instead of real capitalism. They say all we have to do is get real capitalism for the first time ever and everything will be fine.

    I thought people here might find it amusing.

  70. Will Shetterly: “As for letting people define themselves, in the US, everyone’s middle class and above average.”

    Earlier today I watched the last chapter in the career of the Most Interesting Man in the World, and here you are, quoting his antithesis.

    Your definition demonstrates another problem with ideas like “working class”. Ask a Marxist to define it and you’ll get a different definition than from the average person on the street who’ll have a different idea of it from a Republican etc. If you could find a group of hands on an oil rig in the Gulf who agree their manager sitting in his office in Houma is just another working class stiff like they are, I’d be amazed.

  71. The boss is an agent of management. Sort of like scabs and union-busting cops. They are workers who are traitors to their class.

  72. And of course a Marxist will define things differently than someone who hasn’t read Marx. The question is whether the Marxist describes things accurately. There are two kinds of labels, those we accept and those we’re given. Which is truer depends on our vision and the vision of those who’re observing us. It took me decades to see how clearly Marx saw capitalism.

  73. I have no idea what “real capitalism” is supposed to be. There is no such thing as a free market if there ever was one. It’s a bunch of interlocked monopolies. So the basic assumptions of economics 101 do not apply. Even if there were free markets, that wouldn’t fix some basic problems with the way capitalism is run in this country, which is predatory.

    I’m not against the profit motive as a tool to control production in a somewhat rational manner. But you don’t get rich by dealing in a fair way with customers and workers. So we end up with pathological people writing the laws and controlling business and the economy.

  74. Will Shetterly: “Sort of like scabs and union-busting cops. They are workers who are traitors to their class.”

    They’re traitors in exactly the same way that white people who marry blacks are traitors to their race and like men who do housework are traitors to their sex.

    “The question is whether the Marxist describes things accurately.”

    I don’t address Marx’s economic ideas because that’s not my field, and I figure let the experts argue about the technical aspects. However, when he ventures into solcial criticism and discussion of history, that’s a different story. His work in that area is pretty standard for the time; he displays a fairly typical mixture of ignorance and arrogance. What I find horrifying about his social writings is that people still take them at face value today, rather than regarding them as simply one person’s opinion, possibly accurately describing part of the specific set of circumstances of his time, but dispalying ignorance of the past, and a failure to accurately outline future trends. People treat his work like gospel, rather than as a stepping stone towards a full picture of society.

  75. David Hajicek: “I have no idea what ‘real capitalism’ is supposed to be. There is no such thing as a free market if there ever was one.”

    You’re right, there’s never been a totally free market economy.

    That’s one of the great things about being an idealogue, whether religious, economic, racial or any other sort. You can claim the only reason your ideas haven’t solved everything is that they haven’t been tried for *real*. So anarcho-capitalists could prove free-market capitalism is best if only we’d get out of the way and allow them to have totally free markets while libertarains could prove their system is best if only they could get land without any property tax attached, while still other economies demand 100% of the population has to be behind them or they’ll never prove how efficient they are etc. etc.

    By defining “real” anything in such idealistic, impractical ways, these people can feel proud of themselves for knowing the one true secret of how society works while blaming everyone else in the world for their failure to actually demonstrate it’s best.

  76. Identitarian analogies will always be flawed because identitarianism assumes identity is unchangeable. (In the case of trans folk, it assumes the apparent identity is wrong, but the core identity is still unchangeable.) Class is changeable and always has been, to some degree: get rich, and you join the rich; get poor, and you join the poor.

    But since people tend to think in terms of social identity, the best analogy I can make there is to point to Quisings and Vichy France: the only difference between the French or the Norwegians under Nazi rule was whether they worked for the conqueror or the people.

    Now, I don’t mean to suggest the bourgeoisie are Nazis. As I said, identitarian analogies are flawed. But if you want to work with that one, I’ll note that Rommel was not Himmler. No one is saying the bourgeoisie are all alike. We’re saying they’re part of a system that needs to be changed.

  77. L. Raymond, I agree. Marx was a product of his times. Even if we assume he was correct in his assessments at that time, we cannot use his writings as an accurate road map for our future. The road map is a good analogy. The map from 90 years ago can be 100% accurate and still be of not much use for driving today.

    So socialists need to pretty much start over from first principles to establish a new set of guidelines that make more sense in today’s economic world. Also they need new terminology. If you start talking about the bourgeoisie or proletariat, you have instantly lost 90% of the people you need.

    That may be why there is so much confusion about support of socialism in this country. People really do see the need. They just do not understand what “socialism” means.

  78. If you live in a capitalist society and you don’t own a lucrative business, you aren’t a capitalist, you are capital. “Resource” as a synonym for “employee,” gains currently every day in the white collar world.

    Which is a pithy way of saying I agree with Will’s definition of the working class.

  79. skzb

    To live in a capitalist society, one must have something to exchange (ie, sell) for the necessities and luxuries of life. That class of people who must live by selling their ability to work are called working class. That class that sells the products of the labor of others are called capitalists. Those who (like me) sell the product of their own labor are called petty bourgeois or middle class.

    Obviously, there are borderline conditions and gray areas. There are borderline conditions between asteroids and planets, between thunderstorms and hurricanes, between nebulae and stars, between living and non-living organisms, and even between vegetables and animals, but this doesn’t mean the categories do not not reflect real world distinctions.

  80. David, suggesting we throw out Marx is like suggesting we throw out Galileo or Darwin. Is there room to tweak things? Of course; Marx said so himself. He expected socialism to take a different form from place to place.

  81. I’m saying to cut your chains to Marx, he is holding you back. His formula has some problems today because things have changed significantly since 1910. Take whatever is useful from his teachings, but if you always see things through his eyes and his vocabulary, you will not succeed today. Yeah, I know you consider this heresy because Marx is doctrine.

    Sure, Marx makes a lot of sense to hard core socialists. But you need a lot of support from milder socialists. Even from people who do not consider themselves to be socialist.

    I’m suggesting that you figure out what you want as a goal for a reasonable socialist society, and figure out how to get to that. And then convince people that this is a good approach.

  82. David, what works of Marx or Engels have you read?

  83. skzb: “That class of people who must live by selling their ability to work are called working class. That class that sells the products of the labor of others are called capitalists.”

    So to apply this definition to a real world situation, how would you convince the guy who loads cargo for $7.25/hour at the airport that he is in the same economic class as the airline’s hub manager who runs operations for the whole terminal for $100,000/year? How would you convince the manager she has the same political goals as the cargo crew?

    Or to go back to my original phrasing question, why would the blue collar cargo loader think of himself as having the same goals as the white collar manager?

  84. skzb

    L. Raymond: Quite possibly they don’t have the same goals. Certainly, I don’t see it as my job to convince to convince them they do. When the guy loading cargo for $7.25 an hour gets fed up with inequality and oppression, my goal is show why we’re in this situation and how to solve it. The working class is revolutionary not because they feel inclined to make a revolution, or because they think it a good idea, but because their position of producing value in a capitalist economy puts them into a position where they are able to make a revolution, and because the ongoing crisis of capitalism must force them to do so, whatever personal goals they may or may not have. The manager making 100k a year will, like cargo loader, have to make a decision about his or her interests, the difference being that, in the case of the cargo loader, it’s much more obvious.

  85. Will, just the stuff skzb has posted in the last year or so and what is in popular histories or on TV. I do not consider myself an expert on Marx (even less about Engels), nor do I want to be. In fact, make that “I really don’t want to be.” It is not my desire to analyze Marx or the Russian revolution, per se. It is interesting why / how things worked out historically but of limited usefulness today. In the same way that studying the Napoleonic wars, it is of limited use in understanding modern warfare.

    As soon as you require people to fully understand Marx as a pre-condition to be able to understand a new-world socialism, you have lost your audience. It becomes an academic exercise. Maybe that is one reason why socialism has progressed so slowly in this country, even when the pressures for reform and change are very high. You are in a sense “talking down” to your audience.

    I feel that if you cannot explain things in words your audience can understand, you do not understand it. If you cannot formulate a modern socialism that appeals to nearly all the workers, why should they support your desires? Call me a dilettante if you wish, I will gladly take the hit. But this is the world you need to be able to live in if you want socialism to succeed.

  86. Perhaps of more use, would be to study current European Socialism, and specifically the countries who have successfully transitioned into socialism without violence. Then figure out how they can be a template for a socialist movement in this country.

    Again, I am no expert on the above. But at least it sounds like a reasonable and doable approach. Their having succeeded eliminates a lot of questions.

  87. Will Shetterly: “Identitarian analogies will always be flawed because identitarianism assumes identity is unchangeable.

    Not applicable. I was arguing with your blanket statement about the traitorousness of certain workers, not trying to classify people according to your preference. You said *all* scabs and union-busting cops are workers who are traitors to their class. But if you asked workers who cross a picket line if they’re betraying their class, they’d say no because they don’t subscribe to your theories of worker classifications in the same way that people in mixed marriages don’t agree with white supremecists or that sane, intelligent men don’t agree with MRAs. You want to impose your theory on them, but they’d reject it.

    That’s the problem with trying to impose outside defintions on people and expecting them to act according to your rules. I think everyone pretty much agrees on what blue collar work entails. I think most people would not accept Mr. Brust’s definition of “working class” because of the discrepency in wages, political power and social standing between the janitorial staff and upper management. I emphatically think making statements as to the morality of people who don’t subscribe to your classifications is wrong.

  88. skzb: “Quite possibly they don’t have the same goals…The working class is revolutionary not because they feel inclined to make a revolution, or because they think it a good idea, but because their position of producing value in a capitalist economy puts them into a position where they are able to make a revolution, and because the ongoing crisis of capitalism must force them to do so, whatever personal goals they may or may not have.”

    This is a perfect summary of what I find illogical about revolutionary socialism. You acknowledge that the working class encompasses a massive spread of salaries, social positions and political goals then say the working class as a whole *must* revolt because of the effects of capitalism. How can such a diverse group of people, with such different politics and different viewpoints be *forced* to work towards an end that the adherents of the revolution can’t even explain to them?

  89. L. Raymond, if you want to think what’s true is what people believe about themselves, okay.

    David, if you don’t want to read these things, that’s fine. Not everyone will. Interest in socialism is growing in the US just the same.

  90. “If you want to think what’s true is what people believe about themselves, okay.”

    Not what I said. I thought I was very clear in saying you are wrong in insisting your personal preferences reflect objective reality. Your prejudice, ego, or whatever causes you to believe you have the absolute truth all locked up in your philosophy has blinded you to the fact you’re not infallible, and your personal preferences do not impose any sort of requirement on other people to play by your rules or accept your pronouncements. if you don’t like being questioned, don’t make sweeping, all-inclusive statements about millions of people.

  91. L. Raymond, I ain’t never claimed to know objective reality or to think any human can know it. We’re all prisoners of our perception, which is why many of us try to get as many other perspectives as possible in order to understand the world as best we can. If concepts like socialism and capitalism and feudalism don’t work for you, that’s just fine. But as I noted for David, socialism is making sense for more and more Americans.

  92. Will, yes. Interest in socialism is growing in the US. But not interest in the Russian revolution. Or at least socialists cannot count on Marxism to sell socialism. There are plenty of straight up arguments to sell socialism without appealing to authority.

    That didn’t mean that I didn’t find skzb’s turorials interesting.

  93. No one’s trying to make the working class understand the Russian revolution. Your original comment was about Marx’s understanding of capitalism.

  94. skzb

    L. Raymond: “How can such a diverse group of people, with such different politics and different viewpoints be *forced* to work towards an end that the adherents of the revolution can’t even explain to them?” Because you begin with people’s politics and viewpoints; I begin with an understanding of capitalism and thus am able to make forecasts about developments in objective conditions.

    If you travel along the Mississippi between St. Paul and Davenport Iowa, you will see an immense diversity of lifestyles and housing: there are the mansions of the wealthy, there is farmland with houses that are little more than shacks, and everything in between.

    How can anyone predict how they will act when their lives are so different, their beliefs so different, their politics so different? Yet, when the Mississippi overflows her banks, we know they will ALL evacuate their homes, because rising floodwaters don’t care in the least about someone’s politics.

  95. skzb

    David: ” Interest in socialism is growing in the US. But not interest in the Russian revolution.”

    Yeah, yeah. I know. I’ve been hearing this stuff for years. I believe the collapse of capitalism will necessarily be reflected in the ideas of masses of people. Here’s a summary of the conversations I’ve had with those who use your method over the last 15 years or so.

    2002: Americans support the military
    American trust the police
    Capitalism is doing fine.
    There is no interest in socialism
    There is no interest in Marxism or the Russian Revolution

    2007: Americans trust the police
    Capitalism is doing fine.
    There is no interest in socialism
    There is no interest in Marxism or the Russian Revolution

    2009: Americans trust the police
    There is no interest in socialism.
    There is no interest in Marxism or the Russian Revolution

    2013: There is no interest in socialism
    There is no interest in Marxism or the Russian Revolution

    2016: There is no interest in Marxism or the Russian Revolution.

    Those who begin with the permanence of capitalism and with their impressions of people’s thinking will always be lagging behind events.

  96. Will, Please point out where I said anything about that. I said Marxism was dated. “Marx was a product of his times. Even if we assume he was correct in his assessments at that time, we cannot use his writings as an accurate road map for our future.”

    It seems obvious to me that the worker’s problem with big business 100+ years ago (while similar) is not identical to the one today. In some ways it is worse now. I’m not sure how you could shoehorn 1900’s communism into 2016 socialism in a way that will work or that people would find acceptable.

    I’m not putting down Marx, I don’t need to. Any more than I might put down steam locomotives. They were an interesting product of their time. I’m not sure how I can point that out without offending you.

  97. David, apologies for making you think I was taking offense. I was just being brief because I think you and L. Raymond have your minds made up. Which is perfectly natural; humans usually need something big to make them question their assumptions. I had my doubts about socialism for the first forty or forty-five years of my life, when the system seemed to be working for me and I thought of socialism as something whose time had passed. But then the system didn’t work for me and I started looking for what did, and socialism suddenly made a lot more sense.

  98. Thanks for the clarification.

  99. Will Shetterly: “If concepts like socialism and capitalism and feudalism don’t work for you, that’s just fine. But as I noted for David, socialism is making sense for more and more Americans.”

    You’re mixing up a few different things. The concept of socialism is one thing, insisting that everyone who qualifies in your mind as a member of the working class must adhere to the same ideals you do is something else. When you say any worker who crosses a picket line to work is a traitor to his class, you are making judgments not just about that worker’s morality but also about the objective conditions of his life, that is you’re imposing your opinion on him in exactly the same way that a white supremecist expects to impose his opinion on people in interracial marriages. That’s not per se a bad thing since such opinions are meaningless but in the spirit of the OP, I’m “calling out” poor behavior.

  100. L. Raymond, if you think workers are better off with less pay and worse working conditions, okay.

  101. Here’s a brief try:
    If you* employ someone to produce stuff (including intellectual stuff) and make** a profit from that employment that you do not return to the employee then you are a capitalist.

    *You might be acting on behalf of a corporate entity that you largely control either directly or indirectly.
    **Or attempt to make–you may not be a very good capitalist.

  102. skzb

    That seems accurate, Steve.

  103. skzb: “Because you begin with people’s politics and viewpoints; I begin with an understanding of capitalism and thus am able to make forecasts about developments in objective conditions.”

    Trostsky & Lenin thought they had a similar understanding of capitalism, and you can see how successful their predictions about world-wide revolution were, or even just a European revolution. All the people who fomented workers’ revolutions thought they, too, knew all about objective conditions, and you’re the one who mentioned not one workers’ revolution has succeeded.

    I can’t recall if I’ve mentioned I have a degree in history. In the 2.5 years it took me to get my B.A. I studied four or five languages so as not to have to depend on translations of source material in order to guarantee I’m getting the best information I could. I mention this now to emphasize that when I look at a question, I look at the big picture, the history of what has happened, and what current experts, both acknowledged and self-styled, think today. My whole point is that given the constant failure of Marxists to predict the rise of the working class, the downfall of capitalists and the spread of revolutionary fervor, why is there so much determination to hold onto Marxism? That’s like a biologist holding onto Darwin’s work without taking into consideration punctuated equilibrium, new knowledge of mutations, DNA or any other aspect of modern science. It’s like hanging onto Lysenkoism, “proving” the theory is true despite failure after failure in the real world.

    Mr. Hajicek gets it. Marxism may be the basis for understanding something, but given 150 years of experimenting – actual real-world experiences, attempts to apply the theory to society – it’s been shown to be non-viable as a social theory. Hence my wondering why you think applying archaic, 19th century ideas to modern workers is supposed to win converts and convince them to throw off their shackles, join with upper management and overthrow society?

    Will Shetterly: “L. Raymond, if you think workers are better off with less pay and worse working conditions, okay.”

    You don’t even have the common courtesy to ask questions rather than constantly interpret what others say in light of your own ideology. You are impervious to any point of view which conflicts with your own.

  104. L. Raymond, we were talking about strikes and workers, yes? So far as I know, workers’ strikes have always been about higher pay and better working conditions. Scabs thwart the effort to make life better for workers, so I am comfortable concluding that they are traitors to their class. This doesn’t mean they’re awful people, but it does mean that whatever their intentions, their actions support lower wages and worse working conditions, and I have trouble thinking of any way to spin that to say it’s for the good of the workers.

  105. skzb

    Trotsky and Lenin…Trotsky and Lenin…wait, didn’t they lead a revolution? And, if you’re being dismissive of the world wide revolution they predicted, you are merely displaying your own ignorance of history: there were revolutions in Germany in 1918, 1919, 1923. in Hungary, in Poland, in Spain, in Greece, in China, perhaps in India, though I’m not knowledgeable enough of the developments there to be certain. Arguably in France and Belgium. The British general strike was about as close as you can come to revolution, though no insurrection was attempted. In each case, the revolution was defeated; but to deny the rise of the revolutionary rising of the working class in those countries is such an enormity I don’t even know where to go from here.

  106. Will, I see your point about traitors to their class, but it is not very useful. By that I mean that labeling them as “traitors” doesn’t solve the problem. It promotes internal divisions and hostility within the working class, something that weakens the working class. I suppose the idea is to call them nasty names (scabs) or beat them up to force them into line. But it isn’t as if these “scabs” are doing union breaking because they think it is a fun thing to do.

    Years ago, Honeywell engineers had a vote to unionize, I was for it. But most engineers were not. There were several reasons. First, many engineers didn’t like unions because of the bad reputation of some unions (mafia influence). They also unrealistically thought that they could negotiate good salaries by themselves. Many looked down on union people, thinking of them as lazy and abusive of their employers. Those are tough things to overcome to get them to unionize.

    I haven’t had a conversation with a worker “scab”, to assess their motivation. I think that could be a good thing to do if one wanted to enlist their support in a union. Some are probably just opportunists. But I would guess many are desperate. Calling desperate people names doesn’t help, it creates long term enemies.

    Workers today are in a weak position as jobs can be easily sent overseas or workers brought in. The hostility of the government toward unions does not help. At least they aren’t shooting strikers (yet). Perhaps unions need to be more clever and persuasive then they have been in the past. I believe in logic and negotiation, but I also realize that doesn’t always work.

  107. We agree that namecalling doesn’t help. It’s not how I would talk with a potential scab to try to convince him to support workers. Scabs are often the most desperate of the desperate, so I have enormous sympathy for many of them.

  108. skzb: ” In each case, the revolution was defeated; but to deny the rise of the revolutionary rising of the working class…”

    Sorry, that was totally my carelessness, since I had meant to include the word “successful”, rather than suggest there’ve been no attempts. It’s the constant failure that makes this all so puzzling to me.

    And yes, I am being dismissive of their predictions because they predicted success based on their knowledge of objective historical laws and what they said *must* happen. That’s the whole point of my question. When a scientist performs an experiment and it fails and kills the lab assistant, and tries again and kills again, and tries again, no sane lab assistant would say, “How about we try it in Peoria this time and see what happens?”

    After every failure, the scientist will tweak the experiment. After a catastrophic failure, the entire underlying theory would be re-examined. So why do people still accept the ideas of Marx, Engels & Trotsky without alteration? At what point is it OK to wonder if maybe they weren’t infallible? And above all, if the planned end result is to get rid of all classes, why isn’t Mao, who succeeded in his revolution, worth studying? The last time I mentioned him, you dismissed him as not worth discussing.

    If I have accidently made a typo or omitted another word this time, I do apologize and hope it won’t distract from the only question I am really asking, “…why you think applying archaic, 19th century ideas to modern workers is supposed to win converts and convince them to throw off their shackles, join with upper management and overthrow society?”

  109. skzb

    The reason for the defeats of those revolutions is something I’ve discussed before, and am willing to again. But for now, that these revolutionary situations were predicted by Marxists well in advance, and by no one else, seems, if not a convincing argument FOR Marxism, at least a pretty poor argument against it.

  110. L. Raymond:Which non-archaic, non 19th-century ideas would you propose, then?

  111. Marx and Engels may not be perfect and the economic world may have changed in some profound ways since their time, but their critique of capitalism certainly beats the h-e-double toothpicks out of the current mainstream academia and media’s message. That message is “Globalism,” aka the wholesale rape and exploitation of the world’s working class, is good for everyone!

  112. Too much of the argument: “either you are for Marxism or you are for unbridled capitalism.” Besides insulting our intelligence, that is a HUGE spectrum of economics. I say find a good spot toward the middle and work for that. Polarizing the discussion gets us nowhere.

  113. Ah, but David, it seems that the entire point of the propaganda apparatus is to present these economic principles as being so complicated and nuanced, when in fact it is idiot simple: the .001% and their exploitation and ownership of everything and everyone is a rather giant ripoff scam. Marx and Engels break through all that noise to call a spade a spade. In that respect, what was true then is at least as true, if not more so, today. Those who defend the status quo will certainly love the concept that, at least to the rest of us, the economy is far too complicated for us to understand and we should leave its workings to our betters.

  114. Yes, that is true, the .1% run the show for their profit. But the point of socialism should be to improve the situation for the worker, not just replace one set of bosses by another. History has pretty much demonstrated that is the way most of these revolutions have turned out. Being put up against the wall and shot because you speak out against the new boss is not much of an improvement.

    This is because too much of the thinking about a socialist solution is from the top down. Namely, assuming replacing who is in control of things with a socialist will automatically be better for the worker. The worker may not see it that way. They may feel that instead of being exploited by the wealthy .1%, now they are exploited by the .1% key party members.

    I am suggesting we work from the bottom up (not top down). Fight persistently for universal health care, guaranteed minimum income, livable minimum wage, better working conditions, elimination of legal bribery of politicians, eliminate police brutality, etc. Getting those things would really improve worker’s lives without violence. Plus they are “no-brainers” that the oligarchs would have difficulty preventing.

    Of course paid propagandists for the oligarchs will oppose those things, so what? Be persistent speak loudly, march, form agreements with all abused groups, etc. Talk in terms of specific improvements, not politics. You might even be able to get support from Tea Party types who have similar gripes. Get those things and maybe improve things from there. This is doable. This is an improvement. This is not “selling out.”

    An all-or-nothing Marxist revolution, besides being a bad thing, is not very realistic. It’s bad because of the violence and chaos that would result. It’s also at very high risk of failure. So violence, disruption of peoples lives, questionable goals and a high probability of failure? What’s not to like?

  115. David Hajicek:I don’t think that anyone would disagree that actually getting better health care, etc would be good things.
    The problem seems to emerge that somewhere along that path of making things better is a point where “things” will need to be taken from the .1% in order to enable the better path. These “things” might be tangible like reduction of wealth or intangible like perceived privileges. Exactly where that point occurs is really hard to predict.
    The preference would be that in a democratic system, people would realize what is best for the society as a whole and peacefully move in that direction. Historically, many aspects of the .1% seem to not react in a democratic peaceful fashion.
    Voter suppression, attacks on education, stimulating racism and other us vs. them mentalities and outright use of state force are a few examples of the tools that are employed by factions of the .1%.

  116. That is the challenge. To convince the oligarchs that giving up some profits is preferable to them having their heads on a pike.

    There are actually some of the uber rich who have come out and said that. So that is hopeful.

    One needs to ask what is the goal of the “revolution”? Is it to kill the oligarchs or is it to significantly improve the life of workers.

  117. There is also the problem that the oligarchs are mobile. They can move themselves and their money anywhere they choose. So it isn’t like the peasants storming the castle.

    If we can get laws passed which protect the workers from predatory practices that would help a lot. This country has been corrupt for so long, that straightening out the mess will be difficult. But we are seeing various politicians being put in prison for corruption. We just need to do a lot more as virtually every politician takes kickbacks.

  118. skzb: “The reason for the defeats of those revolutions is something I’ve discussed before, and am willing to again. But for now, that these revolutionary situations were predicted by Marxists well in advance, and by no one else, seems, if not a convincing argument FOR Marxism, at least a pretty poor argument against it.”

    The reasons for failure aren’t what I am asking about but rather the system itself. I don’t get why that’s such a hard question; I’m not preparing a gotcha moment and I’m pretty sure you’re not afraid of being mocked. I was hoping to get a little understanding as to why this philosophy – this whole, complete system and not just aspects of it – still appeals to people. But is that the reason, that you personally don’t know of anyone else who predicted unhappy workers would take action? That’s definitely not what I was expecting, but OK, thanks.

    Mr. Halter: “Which non-archaic, non 19th-century ideas would you propose, then?”

    In regards to what? You’ll notice I have not been asking Mr. Brust for his answers to life’s questions, rather why he feels he found those answers in a theory that is provably insufficient to provide them. I’ve asked a lot of people over the years why they adopt entire systems of thought or feel like one person has been able to provide them with all the answers they’re looking for – usually Ayn Rand or Ludwig von Mises because of my area of interest. I am not really interested in his (or anyone’s) ideas to fix the world, but rather why people adopt the systems they do, or why they’ve picked a specific philosophy. I’ve never thought that was a complicated question, but in recent years it has become so.

  119. skzb

    L. Raymond: At heart, it isn’t a system, it is a method. Does that help at all?

  120. David–

    No offense man, but you are missing huge chunks of the picture. Laws are devices to facilitate the control of capital over everything. The owners create the laws to assure their continued ownership. When an occasional politician is jailed, it is window dressing designed as a sop to the masses. Meanwhile, the wholesale theft on a major scale goes on and it is all perfectly legal because those doing the stealing wrote the laws. Yes I suppose the citizens could ask the .01% to stop tilting everything in their own favor and gobbling up everything and everyone, but I suspect they would just laugh at such a request. And probably arrest those who asked the question.

  121. Krager, yes, I am aware of what you are saying. I am also aware that if people organize, they are the ones with the power.

    I hope I didn’t imply that improving workers lives would be easy.

  122. “I was hoping to get a little understanding as to why this philosophy – this whole, complete system and not just aspects of it – still appeals to people.”

    My guess is that it provides a coherent way to look at the world that makes sense and fits together. People like that.

    I got that from ecology. When I was in high school I read an ecology book. It didn’t explain a lot but it evoked a lot. Like it had a picture of a fennec fox from a desert and an arctic fox, and invited the reader to guess why one had big ears and the other little ears.

    It gave examples of convergent evolution and examples of extinctions.

    I dreamed about it and suddenly it all made sense. Each individual species evolves for its own survival. But when they get into things like extreme predator-prey cycles, each time the population crashes there’s a chance they go extinct. In general the species survives best in an environment where its population doesn’t crash. So there is some selection for populations that don’t disrupt their environments and don’t let other species disrupt their environments. Over time, ecosystems will tend to evolve that have all the niches filled. Species that protect each other’s survival. That sequester every resource. Any resource that’s available for a new or invasive species to use, is a chink in the armor that could allow something disruptive to get a foothold.

    Individual genes compete to increase their place in the population. Individual populatoins compete to own or expand their ecological niches. The system as a whole tends toward increased stability. Stable systems last longer and have more opportunity to become more stable.

    It made so much sense that I thought it had to be true. But today many ecologists argue that it is not true at all. They don’t see it happening. It’s true that they are stuck looking at ecosystems which have been thoroughly degraded by humans and the invasive species we brought. And the things they look for which they think would be there if species cooperated, are not the things I think would be there. But I have to admit they may be right. The idea makes so much sense that I was certain it would be true. But in reality it might not be.

    Marxism makes so much sense that people believe it has to be true. It provides a framework they can use to understand the world, and once they learn to see in that framework then it provides a coherent explanation for everything they see.

    Which is not to say it isn’t true. It could be true or not, independent of how convincing it is.

  123. I have the idea there is a fundamental difference between today’s USA versus the world that Marx knew. Here is one thing that looks different to me: We have a lot more people than we have jobs for, and we try to keep them all alive.

    Shouldn’t the capitalists use the surplus labor to drive down wages until the workers are on the edge of starvation, and utterly afraid that if they lose their jobs they will in fact starve? I dunno, but they don’t do that. The society makes an effort to keep everybody alive.

    We have an official labor force with is a fraction of the population. Once somebody has been unemployed for a year or two they aren’t counted as part of that force and it’s very hard for them to get back into it. You are much more employable if your work history does not have holes in it.

    The surplus people — who are not officially workers — get taken care of some. Women with children can get on welfare for awhile, but they have to train to get jobs even though the jobs are not there. Men who can’t work can still get into prison and get taken care of. They may be required to work for cigarettes. A lot of people are declared disabled and then can get assistance without the social stigma they would get if they were too lazy to work. They instead get the social stigma of being sick, disabled, nonfunctional. It’s increasingly easy to get diagnosed as mentally disabled, though it takes a certain amount of money and perhaps somebody who has some political pull.

    Workers are of course scared stiff that they might lose their jobs and be unable to find others and have to become disabled or go to prison or get pregnant etc. But it isn’t that they’re scared of starving to death. It’s more that they could have a long life being nobody, having no status. Somebody who has to live off whatever the government gives him/her.

    In Marx’s time the working class had power, they just were not organized to wield it. They did the work. There was no way to get it done unless they did it.

    Today a big part of the “working class” is doing cheap labor, they work so cheap that it is not worth replacing them with machines. If they cause trouble they can be replaced. We have so much capital sloshing around that we don’t know what to do with it, but it isn’t worth automating away the jobs that people do cheap and uncomplaining. It wouldn’t help the bottom line to do that. But if they do cause trouble, or seriously demand more money, then they can be replaced just fine.

    Workers don’t have time to think about the system and what’s wrong with it. They are too busy working. But the nonworkers have plenty of time to think things out. They just feel generally worthless. They don’t have the status of workers, and nobody will listen to them since they are worthless and disabled and have no status. I imagine these people might have some sort of place in a revolt of some sort. But they have no place in a communist revolt — they aren’t working-class. Besides, they themselves believe they have no rights.

  124. J Thomas, good summary of the situation. Any solution for workers needs to address much of this.

  125. L Raymond:In regards to the question you asked:
    “… the only question I am really asking, “…why you think applying archaic, 19th century ideas to modern workers is supposed to win converts and convince them to throw off their shackles, join with upper management and overthrow society?””

    I was curious if you had any proposals rather than just questions.

  126. “I was curious if you had any proposals rather than just questions.”

    My proposal would be to not adopt wholesale the philosophy of a single person. The resulting personality cult tends to overshadow objective analysis.

  127. How many people would you like to have been involved in creating an economic model before you find it useful? 2 people? 17? 289?

  128. Mr. Halter, I am concerned by cults of personalities, especially those espoused by people who advocate violence and use of force to support their political positions. I am curious about Objectivists or Randites or whatever they call themselves these days due to their devotion to the writings of one person, but since they’re not out there trying to stir up violent revolution, they’re just a curiosity. People like Cliven Bundy have a single ideology, but it’s an amalgamation of several traditions with scores of sources and hence is flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances. They can be talked out of violence without such a change in their plans being perceived as an attack on their basic identity as patriots. I find their ideas fascinating (they’re my special area of study), but only the fringe is worrisome.

    People who devote themselves to a single body of work exclusively, who have chosen an idol, must uphold the supremacy of that idol regardless of what’s going on in the world around them. Their own vision of themselves as a (fill in the blank) demands it, and if that mental framework involves violence then the violence will come, whether or not it is necessary or even effective. I’d love to understand people who insist they are hard nosed, scientific materialists but are willing to adhere to an idealistic political ideology like Marxism, despite having had the chance to see how it plays out in real life. Call it a hobby if you like, I don’t mind.

    What I am not interested in is discussing economic models in a private, restricted forum such as a blog.

  129. Interesting. So, you see your role here as a visiting anthropologist of a sort?
    I’ll just note that Steve has mentioned that he is not espousing a violent revolution himself–just that, historically speaking, such an event seems unavoidable.

    I myself would like to think that we may finally be getting close to accumulating enough tools that a violent revolution will not occur and we can reach a useful post-Capitalism economic model. I (perhaps foolishly) tend towards optimism.

    Right wing extremism tends to be more of a worrisome concern to me.

  130. “So, you see your role here as a visiting anthropologist of a sort?”

    It would be really presumptuous of me to assume a role of any sort. Mr. Brust is open about what he believes, is will to discuss it up to a point, and understands – or I sincerely hope he does – I’m trying to understand things myself, and not attack, even if the things I’m trying to understand don’t correspond 100% with what’s being discussed. And I know that lack of complete overlap has been the source of friction since I often ask things that should be taken at face value but which could be spun into something else if it’s not accepted I’m just curious and not attacking.

    “I’ll just note that Steve has mentioned that he is not espousing a violent revolution himself–just that, historically speaking, such an event seems unavoidable.”

    He has refused to reject extreme violence as an option if he feels it’s necessary, and falling back on history is an annoyingly mechanistic response in light of the Marxist rejection of human nature.

    “Right wing extremism tends to be more of a worrisome concern to me.”

    The violent fringe of any position tends to worry me, because these days that too often truly means an attempt at mass destruction. I especially love the right wing “patriot” movement, though, because of the ridiculously amusing lengths they’re willing to go to in order to try to justify themselves legally. My history degree included an emphasis on the development of law and legal systems, so maybe that aspect of it wouldn’t be quite as entertaining to others as it is to me.

    On the other hand, that background is one of the reasons I find a problem in Marxism’s inability to articulate *how* the world would operate under its auspices. The Bolsheviks stand as an excellent example of what happens when a bunch of ideologues take control with no idea what they’re doing. Unless a society is willing to completely muzzle people’s public speech, which I trust will never happen in the US (I’m an optimist, too), the only way to fend off mass violence is to address those who are attracted to these extreme ideologies and try to counter the violent rhetoric by speaking to them in their own idiom. In other words, you fight speech with speech, hoping it never becomes violence. And you can’t speak to people if you don’t understand *why* they’re attracted to extreme positions in the first place.

  131. skzb: “L. Raymond: At heart, it isn’t a system, it is a method. Does that help at all?”

    Sorry, I just saw this.

    In trying to explain non-economic aspects of society, Marx falls back on a myopic, just-so analysis. What he knows from first hand experience is held to be not only accurate but constant. He attempts to describe the motivations of past people by what he knows of his contemporaries and *only* from the stand point of economics. His idea of materialism is easily demonstrated to be false just by reference to military history and seeing how often the materially deficient whipped their opponents. So as just a method, it’s still flawed.

  132. The Bundy patriot cattlemen are simply going for a land grab. The rest is rationalization.

    The assumptions of an idyllic world under Marxism require way too much suspension of disbelief for my liking. Just because there could be enough to go around, doesn’t mean various sociopaths won’t try to hoard and control the resources and power. There has to be something in place to prevent it. Once you do that, there is a government.

  133. skzb

    “His idea of materialism is easily demonstrated to be false just by reference to military history and seeing how often the materially deficient whipped their opponents.”

    It seems your understanding of materialism is as deep and broad as your understanding of Marxism.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Materialism

  134. “It seems your understanding of materialism is as deep and broad as your understanding of Marxism.”

    You’re suggesting my understanding of Marxism & materialism is shallow, and to back up your claim you link to Wikipedia? One moment while I roll my eyes into the next state…

    I’ll remind you of what you yourself said 9/8/13 in your thread about the Paris Commune: “Materialism seeks to explain our thoughts by material conditions; idealism seeks to explain our conditions as the product of thoughts.”

    Granting the phrase “materially deficient” may have been glib, the simple fact is history is replete with examples of people with the exact same material conditions as other societies who’ve developed different theologies and/or philosohpies of government which in turn caused them to behave in ways utterly unlike others with similar material conditions. The history of warfare simply offers the most striking examples of these clashes. Of course there are other events – political, artistic, maybe even agricultural developments for all I know – which also reflect the differences of socieities with the same material conditions.

    Purely material conditions don’t explain how or why a culture develops any more than purely non-material conditions. It’s a combination of factors, and while there’s no question the material aspects are of the greatest importance, they do not stand alone.

  135. David Hajicek: “The Bundy patriot cattlemen are simply going for a land grab. The rest is rationalization.”

    If I were heavily invested in the idea of being a patriot, this is where I’d tell you your understanding of land titles is as deep and broad as your understanding of the patriot philosophy as a whole. Fortunately, I know their ideas about title are so much bovine effluvium. Your characterization of “the rest” as being just rationalization isn’t accurate, but to go into the ins and outs of their ideas would be way out of place here.

    “The assumptions of an idyllic world under Marxism require way too much suspension of disbelief for my liking. Just because there could be enough to go around, doesn’t mean various sociopaths won’t try to hoard and control the resources and power.”

    A few months ago I was introduced to the work of Dmitri Volkogonov, who wrote bios of Stalin, Lenin & Trotsky from a unique perspective. He was a 3 star Soviet general (a colonel-general) who ended up as a special assistant to Yeltsin and was made chair of the presidential commission which began the first open examination the KGB’s archives. “Stalin” (1991) is on my shelf unread as yet, but in the other two books, which were written in 1994 & 1996, he makes plain just how strongly he admires both Lenin and Trotsky as men and idealists while utterly deploring their actions and philosophy. And of course he presents as evidence their own words as stored in the archives, not to mention being able to include his own discussions with men who actually worked with Stalin or knew some of the old Bolsheviks.

    “There has to be something in place to prevent it. Once you do that, there is a government.”

    His last book was “Autopsy for an Empire: The Seven Leaders Who Built the Soviet Regime” and it examines the Soviet government under each leader through Gorbachev. I mention this in case you’re interested in an insider’s perspective on a Marxist government.

    As a total aside, if you were amused by the Klingon “Fiddler” video, you might be interested in an amicus brief that was written partially in Klingon and submitted in support of a ST fan who’s being sued by Paramount for copyright violation. It was in reference to this brief that someone sent that same link you found to the lawyer in support of the idea of Klingon as a living language.

  136. L.Raymond:Please point out these non-material aspects. I think you will find they don’t materialize.

  137. L. Raymond–

    Are you getting paid by the word to astro-turf? I shared skzb’s concerns regarding your complete misunderstanding of materialism prior to your responses from today; in light of your most recent contributions, all doubt is removed: you have no idea what you are talking about.

  138. “Granting the phrase “materially deficient” may have been glib, the simple fact is history is replete with examples of people with the exact same material conditions as other societies who’ve developed different theologies and/or philosohpies of government which in turn caused them to behave in ways utterly unlike others with similar material conditions. The history of warfare simply offers the most striking examples of these clashes.”

    Entirely apart from the question how this relates to people who believe in “materialism”, that’s a fascinating topic.

    The cultural baggage that people bring to a situation is part of the reality that affects the world. In the same circumstances, people who know how to do different things will do different things, and it takes time and effort for them to learn other approaches.

    Our history has a great big effect on us — the things we don’t think to do don’t get done.

    This is not so easy to find examples for in our culture which so greedily absorbs ideas from wherever we can. Ideas which don’t come naturally to us do tend to be rejected. But the ones that get thoroughly rejected are usually those which require we all do something. There will be at least a few people who choose to sleep in yucatan hammocks, or eat steak tartare, or whatever. We get some people who absorb Marxism, but usually not enough of them to impose it on everybody who doesn’t get it.

    So in the short run Marxism co-exists with everything else. It provides intellectual tools that people can use whenever they find those tools useful, and it does not transform the society except to the extent that those people using those tools solve problems they would not otherwise. In the long run, who knows?

  139. L.Raymond- I think you may be confusing “material” and “matériel”. If you’ll review the wikipedia link Steve shared with you, you will see that materialism is not a study of how much “stuff” any one community has. It is a belief that only the material world can be used to explain events. In other words, ideas and beliefs cannot exist independent of physical influences. Philosophy does not determine the course of a society; the psychical and historical circumstances of a society determine its course and philosophy springs from that.

    There is no need to depend on Marx to find support for this world view. Consider the many studies by neuroscientists attempting to determine the existence of free will, from Benjamin Libet to this recent study: http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2016/04/27/0956797616641943.abstract

    Human minds have a marvelous ability to rationalize, particularly in assigning meaning to their choices. Human societies are just collections of such minds and mythologize to the same end. How many European philosophers explained Western European domination of the world as proof of moral superiority? How many of them do you think were right?

    Now, accepting that the physical is the originator and determiner of the ideal is a fine start, but does that mean that like Hari Seldon will can add up all the factors and map out the future of mankind? Even if free will is nothing but a post-hoc delusion, can we live as if we were programmed from birth and follow our inclinations as if they were irresistible?

    I’m attached to my own delusions, personally, and I think we’ll be developing the computational power to map out the weather long before we have sufficient to attempt psychohistory. I like my notions about altruism, tolerance and communal effort, wherever they may have come from, and I plan to continue to promote them. Still and all, refusing recognizing their source as accidents of my upbringing and the circumstances I’m living with and assigning it to… I can’t imagine, divine inspiration?… would not serve to make them fitter ideas. It would just make me another blind idealogue.

    Whatever doubts I have about Marx’s analysis of historical forces and trends, I don’t doubt materialism, because that is a much deeper notion than Marxism, and to my mind, an irrefutable one.

  140. Mr. Halter: “Please point out these non-material aspects. I think you will find they don’t materialize.”

    This is like Nobutsune and Sei Shonogan discussing footprints. I’ll leave you to work out the reference.

    larswyrdson: “I think you may be confusing ‘material’ and ‘matériel’. If you’ll review the wikipedia link Steve shared with you, you will see that materialism is not a study of how much ‘stuff’ any one community has. It is a belief that only the material world can be used to explain events.”

    Thanks for your thought. That’s not what I said, but since we’ve reached the point that the evangelical is telling the atheist who doesn’t accept the fact of original sin that she doesn’t understand the depth and complexity of Christianity, I’m willing to call it quits.

  141. L. Raymond:It’s rather simpler than that. As Inigowrydson implied, You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.

  142. It sounds like you guys are arguing about how many angels can sit on the head of a pin. Important to you guys, but for others, not so much.

    I spent about an hour or two (obviously not much time compared to you guys) reading direct quotes and a summary of Marx on materialism from a couple sources. I don’t know if it was the writing style of the day, but I was not impressed with his writing. Very convoluted and unclear. Why take 3000 words to say something that could be put into one sentence? Or 6000 words saying what it is he is not saying?

    Summary: From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_materialism

    “Historical materialism can be seen to rest on the following principles:

    The basis of human society is how humans work on nature to produce the means of subsistence.
    There is a division of labour into social classes (relations of production) based on property ownership where some people live from the labour of others.
    The system of class division is dependent on the mode of production.
    The mode of production is based on the level of the productive forces.
    Society moves from stage to stage when the dominant class is displaced by a new emerging class, by overthrowing the “political shell” that enforces the old relations of production no longer corresponding to the new productive forces. This takes place in the superstructure of society, the political arena in the form of revolution, whereby the underclass “liberates” the productive forces with new relations of production, and social relations, corresponding to it.”

    It shows that if you are talking about Marx, you need to use the term “historical materialism”. Which is different from the word “materialism” in common usage.

    It appears that Marx thinks that there is an inevitable progression from A to B to C ending in a socialist state. That this is a higher manifestation of human economic and social progress. Which I find strange seeing as he does not believe in human nature.

    He forgot the part “and here a miracle occurs” for it all to work out nicely. No need to waste time discussing this.

  143. David Hajicek&L. Raymond:It is interesting that you both see the the rejection of the supernatural (materialism, scientific method, etc) vs accounting (matériel i.e How much stuff do we have) as dancing angels.

  144. L.Raymond- “That’s not what I said, but since we’ve reached the point that the evangelical is telling the atheist who doesn’t accept the fact of original sin that she doesn’t understand the depth and complexity of Christianity,”

    Although I respect your desire not to fall down rabbit holes, I can’t tell you how hilarious this statement is to me! Which of us is the evangelical in your metaphor?

    As I said, I am not a faithful follower of anyone, least of all Marx. I’m honestly not trying to sway you to a new faith. I was, however, pointing out the deep, logical flaw in your claim:

    “the simple fact is history is replete with examples of people with the exact same material conditions as other societies who’ve developed different theologies and/or philosohpies of government which in turn caused them to behave in ways utterly unlike others with similar material conditions.”

    If you can actually give me even a single example of two societies that share identical, material circumstances, I will be amazed. Material circumstances don’t end at the technology available, or access to certain ores, or GNP. That is why I was saying that you seem to misunderstand the meaning of materialism. Geography, climate, infectious disease, ecosystem, neighboring societies… there isn’t anything that can be seen or measured that doesn’t contribute to material circumstances. Unless you can access parallel dimensions, you cannot demonstrate that two societies with identical material circumstances developed different philosophies.

    That actually is the crux of my chief problem with Marx, that he seems a bit reductionist in his material analysis, but I can always argue that with Steve another day.

    So, if you believe that thoughts exists independently of matter, that minds are not an emergent property of brains, that there are ideas that spring into the world independent of physical reality, then you are right: We are probably in a nonoverlapping magisteria situation. I won’t try to evangelize my phenomenological view of the world.

  145. Try this metaphor?

    You can’t run a computer program without a computer. That’s materialism. No material computer, no programs run.

    But if you have a program written in a high level language, it can run on any computer which has sufficient resource, independent of the details of how the particular computer is built.

    In theory, any program that your computer runs could be run on a Turing machine.

    There have been computers built that ran on compressed air instead of electricity. If you can build gates that work with compressed air, then you can build simple computers. They run slow but they will run despite strong electric and magnetic fields that disrupt electronics.

    OK, let’s say there are 10^14 different computer programs that your Timex-Sinclair computer can run. We can argue that only a small fraction of those computers can be conceived of in our society, or could conceivably be written and marketed. This might be true. It is a much bigger leap of faith to say that the totality of material conditions determines every possible economic computer program, than to say that the limitations of the computer determine the possible computer programs. It has become more a matter of faith, that’s plausibly true but very hard to get evidence about.

    I’m about ready to stop here. It is a philosophical point. Perhaps our thinking is so constrained by our material environment that we have no choice what we think about it. Since the range of thought available — like the variety of computer programs — is so much vaster than what I can think about in a reasonable time, I have no opinion and I don’t see that it matters to me in any material way.

    On the other hand, ideas like this — which come out of nowhere, which cannot be proven nor disproven — might influence people in unpredictable ways. There’s no telling how they might limit us when we believe them, or how they might channel our thinking to help us come up with ways to do things that no one else would think of.

    I just don’t know.

  146. The general topic of free will — what is it and does it exist along with non-conscious thought processes is very cool. As larswyrdson’s link from a couple posts back shows, there are a number of studies that show extremely interesting results.
    What “we” experience as a steady flow of consciousness does not, in multiple cases, match what is really going on. For some interesting examples, google blindsight and perceptual illusions.

  147. Why is having to have a physical reality as a prerequisite for being able to have self-awareness and imagination, considered a great insight or even worth arguing about?

    Same for the notion that the kind of work you do to make a living will color and maybe limit your thinking. But still the guy running a lathe (or writing S/W) can imaging fantastical worlds and write about that. And this is somewhat independent of the political framework the worker is in.

  148. David Hajicek:In a rational world, physical reality would not be a controversial topic. Unfortunately, we don’t live in such a place. For insight into those who would argue against basing reality in the physical, you could start with googling religion.

  149. Even religions start based on a physical reality for humans. Gods might be thought of as not limited by a physical reality, but us poor humans are, at least while we are alive. ;>)

  150. skzb: Re your comment about Marxism being a method rather than a system, I wanted to check something I remembered from Rosa Luxembourg before really taking this up. In “Leninism or Marxism” she wrote:

    “We cannot secure ourselves in advance against all possibilities of opportunist deviation. Such dangers can be overcome only by the movement itself – certainly with the aid of Marxist theory, but only after the dangers in question have taken tangible form in practice.” (https://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1904/questions-rsd/ch02.htm)

    It doesn’t seem to me she thinks it’s much of a method if it is only useful after a danger has manifested rather than having assisted those who follow it to avoid the danger in the first place. Also, of course, she refers to it as a theory which gives the impression she herself doesn’t actually think of it as a method in any case.

    larswyrdson: “Although I respect your desire not to fall down rabbit holes, I can’t tell you how hilarious this statement is to me! Which of us is the evangelical in your metaphor?”

    Neither. I haven’t really been reading your input so I don’t have a place for you in my thoughts. What I do have is a familiarity with people’s steering an argument to a single detail rather than addressing the complete idea, whatever it is, as a whole. I’ve been complicit in that by allowing the diversion, and I admit to irritating myself when I do so. *shrug*

    “So, if you believe that thoughts exists independently of matter… ”

    Find someone who thinks that, and you’ve found an idiot.

  151. “We cannot secure ourselves in advance against all possibilities of opportunist deviation. Such dangers can be overcome only by the movement itself – certainly with the aid of Marxist theory, but only after the dangers in question have taken tangible form in practice.”

    Just from the words, it looks to me like she’s saying that people are going to misuse the method. They will find ways to twist the ideas to gain profit for themselves.

    Any method can be misapplied, particularly by people who benefit by misapplying it. You can’t make it idiot-proof ahead of time. So you have to supervise people and correct them when they get it wrong, and you can’t tell ahead of time all the ways they will “deviate”. You have to fix each heresy after it arises, because you can’t hope to catch them all ahead of time.

  152. skzb

    L. Raymond: Method refers how one makes deductions from facts. Deducing the laws of motion from the facts is science; imposing the laws of motion on the facts is schematism. Marxism is incompatible with schematism, which begins with a priori models that the facts must be wedged into.

    What is your method?

  153. Mr. Hajicek:

    “I spent about an hour or two (obviously not much time compared to you guys) reading direct quotes and a summary of Marx on materialism from a couple sources. I don’t know if it was the writing style of the day, but I was not impressed with his writing. Very convoluted and unclear.”

    I understand why you think it looks like pin dancing. I can explain the reason for my dismay, which may help.

    I’ve said before that I’m no economist, and I’ll take the word of those who are that Marx’s views on capital were revolutionary for the time and some are even pertinent today. However, Marx was infected with a very traditional 19th century disease, the belief he could deduce pretty much anything by pure logic without formal study. A good example of this is an article by Engels, which I’ll pick on here because this really gave me hives when I first read it: “The Part played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man“. A typical red flag soon appears as he starts a paragraph, It stands to reason…

    No matter the topic, most of the time that sentiment, however expressed, is a warning that the writer has no direct knowledge of the subject, has performed no extensive study, certainly no field work. He is simply assuming his own experience and opinions are universal. These days, you’ll see that a lot in legal fields, for example when people insist the first amendment doesn’t cover hate speech, because they know that’s so clearly not cool and hurtful not what the founding dudes intended. Back then, this enshrining of personal perspective tended to be by people who were convinced they were applying rigorous scientific standards of inquiry to whatever subject they were addressing. These days, when such anti-intellectualism is part of world view that advocates violent action, I worry.

    “[quote]The basis of human society is how humans work on nature to produce the means of subsistence.[/quote]”

    This was Marx’s view as one living in a time he felt was the inevitable result of the force of history. Phoenecians, Greeks, Romans – whatever societies he was familiar with were the only ones that mattered to his hypothesis. Not all nomadic societies had the same organization, nor all the hunter-gatherers, nor all the settled agriculturists. He could be excused for not being well-informed, given how myopic & ethno-centric 19th century Europe was, but I don’t think his modern adherents deserve that same consideration.

    “It appears that Marx thinks that there is an inevitable progression from A to B to C ending in a socialist state. That this is a higher manifestation of human economic and social progress. Which I find strange seeing as he does not believe in human nature.”

    He did well and truly believe in some sort of guiding intelligence. He chose to call it history, talking about historic conditions and historic necessities and historic inevitabilities. Again, in a typical 19th century social theorist that would be perfectly normal. That we have people today with a martyr complex that allows them to justify doing whatever they feel is right, who believe history will certainly guide them to their promised paradise, is scary to me.

    To be sure, it’s not just Marxist ideology that’s worrisome. You can see the same sort of inchoate anger and tendancy to violence that first animated worker uprisings in the actions of Trump supporters (or those who claim to support him). Mass movements are a vast, complex field of study I’m not sure I’ll pursue with any vigor. But the curiosity is strong, and having now heard that Marxism is a method and not a practice (a new point of view to me), I’m willing to try to understand why some people think that.

  154. “Marx was infected with a very traditional 19th century disease, the belief he could deduce pretty much anything by pure logic without formal study.”

    L Raymond, there is something real and workable about that method of thinking, but it has to be very carefully applied.

    If you hear an explanation how something works that does not make sense, sometimes you can show that it does not work even though you have no real experience. Some theories are self-refuting, and logic can be enough to show that they are self-refuting.

    Making positive contributions is harder. You can show that if certain assumptions are true then some results will tend to follow. But you can never prove that your assumptions are true. You can at most show that they tend to fit observation, and that natural selection will tend to select individuals who fit those assumptions.

    In the sciences this sort of thing tends to be done by sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists etc. They have a bad name which is largely deserved, but not entirely.

    The central concept is the ESS, the Evolutionary Stable Strategy. If individuals who do a particular thing tend to benefit from it, then if there is a way for them to start doing it and notice the result, they are likely to keep doing it. If there is a gene (or a “gene”) that gets them to do it, that gene is likely to spread if it ever gets established.

    It’s open to question whether individuals actually benefit from something that a sociobiologist assumes they benefit from. It’s open to question whether a gene or “gene” that causes the trait will or can actually evolve. But there’s something to the reasoning. It *could* be so. Meanwhile theories which assume that traits which cause the individuals who display them to be damaged will spread, themselves have a disadvantage as theories.

    Marx did this kind of thing a lot. His reasoning makes sense. If a society is arranged so that some people can get a lot of power for themselves, probably after awhile there will be some people who have gotten a lot of power for themselves. Maybe the power tends to leave them and settle on others, skipping around randomly. If some people can find a way to keep power instead of litting it slip away, probably after awhile there will be people using those methods who keep power. The people with power will tend to help their own personal selves, because after all helping themselves is a central part of what people do. Eventually some sort of revolution is likely to remove their power (and likely their lives) and power then descends on someone else.

    If we assume there are things they can do to maintain their power, revolutions are most likely when something has disrupted those things. Any major failure of the system can do that, or a big technological change. This is a reason for the powerful to resist technological change — they are OK now, and they might not be OK after the change. But if they resist change too much they may be too weak to resist foreign competitors who have power elsewhere.

    It all makes sense a priori and there’s probably some kind of truth to it. You wind up with a structure to put your observations and thoughts into. Is it the best structure? I dunno, I’d prefer to have a collection of alternate approaches and try them all.

  155. skzb: “Deducing the laws of motion from the facts is science; imposing the laws of motion on the facts is schematism. Marxism is incompatible with schematism, which begins with a priori models that the facts must be wedged into.”

    Unfortunately, we don’t know how to completely avoid schematism. We have unconscious assumptions we don’t notice, and we’re stuck with them until we notice them.

    This is easy to notice with physics. People naively assume that time is very different from space, that time progresses from past to future and it progresses from past to future the same for everybody. Newton made a gigantic structure of thought which never questioned those assumptions. Einstein with special relativity made a new model which fit known data better. It required a different set of assumptions. And once people fully assimilate those assumptions it’s hard for them to imagine the different assumptions of euclidean relativity.

    Noticing your unconscious assumptions is an art, and you can’t expect to get it right the first try or the second try. There’s no shame in failing at it, and it’s worth attempting to do better.

  156. Seeing what you expect to see, is a real problem. This is especially true for social sciences. But even in cutting edge hard science, it lends biases that affect the results of experiments. In things like quantum physics, observation affects the results. It is possible that had the scientist had different expectations, different results might have been observed. Strange stuff.

  157. skzb” Method refers how one makes deductions from facts. Deducing the laws of motion from the facts is science; imposing the laws of motion on the facts is schematism. Marxism is incompatible with schematism, which begins with a priori models that the facts must be wedged into.”

    Wow, you were right all along. No, wait, wrong topic.

    Marxism begins with a huge number of a priori positions which are regarded as axiomatic, or schemastic, I guess, if you must have your -isms. As I’ve said, for the 19th century, it’s pretty typical.

    But contrast his social & political theories with the scientific method. If I form a hypothesis, devise an experiment and test it, it will succeed or fail. If successful, the results are made public for anyone familiar with the field to test and analyze, and if they find no problems, my hypothesis will eventually be accepted as a theory. If it fails I figure out what went wrong, design a new experiment to test it etc etc.

    If I don’t change my underlying hypothesis and just keep doing the same thing over and over and blame the material or the lab assistant or the company owner for causing my experiment to fail, then I was not following anything like the scientific method. That would be attemtping to force circumstances to conform to my proven failure of a hypothesis.

  158. Mr. Hajicek,

    “Seeing what you expect to see, is a real problem. This is especially true for social sciences. But even in cutting edge hard science, it lends biases that affect the results of experiments. In things like quantum physics, observation affects the results. It is possible that had the scientist had different expectations, different results might have been observed. Strange stuff.”

    That’s why I think peer review is the most valuable aspect of the scientific method. If a scientist produced a hypothesis then cussed out anyone who questioned it, declared anyone who altered it for testing to be a schismatic heretic and expelled from the lab anyone who’s results suggested a different approach would work better, she’d be rejected as an ignorant crank rather then being held up as a modern prophet with all the answers.

  159. L.Raymond “I haven’t really been reading your input so I don’t have a place for you in my thoughts. What I do have is a familiarity with people’s steering an argument to a single detail rather than addressing the complete idea, whatever it is, as a whole.”

    Fair enough. You claimed to want to understand what makes Marxism a method. I think historical materialism is 90% of what elevates it from most other political philosophies. You seemed to misunderstand and underrate materialism. You may continue to do so, since it seems your preference.

    David Hajicek “Why is having to have a physical reality as a prerequisite for being able to have self-awareness and imagination, considered a great insight or even worth arguing about?”

    Well, people have been arguing over is for thousands of years! It is the monism vs dualism debate. Is thought separate from and independent of the body? The majority of people believe it, whether or not they call that separate bit a soul. According to a fairly recent study at the University of Edinburgh, 1/3 of medical professionals believed it Great thinkers have argued both sides, most famously Rene Descartes and his “I think therefor I am.”

    Why is it important? Only by admitting that all that is going on in your head is an emergent property of your physical brain and its millions of years of evolution can you begin to tease out the source of our preferences for certain ideas or behaviors. There really is no true self-awareness possible unless you can treat thought as a symptom of physical processes.

    The same is true of history. History is most often taught as a chain of great men having great thoughts that sway the course of their respective civilizations. This is not a useful way to view history. The South did not secede because John C. Calhoun convinced the majority of Southerners that slavery was an institution vital to Southern character and culture and that States Rights were a preeminent principal. The War didn’t end because Abraham Lincoln swayed the majority to the view that all men should be free and that the Union must be united. The country split because it was in the grip of two incompatible economic systems, one rising steadily in power and the other collapsing under its inefficiency and waste. It was united again because the complete and final collapse of the system of forced chattel labor left the Confederates with no way to resist a force supported by capital and paid labor.

    That is a fairly obvious example. Few people who have studied beyond the High School level would deny that economic forces played a bigger part in the conflict than rhetoric. But moaning about the “principle” of States Rights goes on to this day, held up by people who claim that the abstract idea of some personal right is their real motivation for suppressing the rights of others that they perceive to be their economic rivals, e.g. women, people of color, LBGT people. Why are immigrating Hispanics a threat? Well, they are criminals and rapists and… oh yes! they are taking our jobs. Why is gay marriage a threat? Well, it is against God, and immoral and… oh yes! it confers tax advantages and inheritance rights on people who are unlike me.

    When you look for the physical, material motivations for social change, you are at least looking at something measurable. Great ideas and leaders to propose them arise at every moment of change. It is far more useful to think of them as a symptom of that change, rather than a cause of it.

  160. L. Raymond:I thought that this paper provided a decent historical reference for thoughts for and against Marxism as a science. As you read through it, you will note that thoughts on what Marxism is evolve and branch in a similar fashion as thoughts of what science is grow and branch over time.

  161. skzb

    L. Raymond: “Marxism begins with a huge number of a priori positions which are regarded as axiomatic, or schemastic” Ah. I had not known this. I guess I’ve been doing it wrong. Perhaps I should get lessons from you on what I believe. Meanwhile, can you answer my question, please? What is your method?

  162. Iarswyrdson, I guess I thought that kind of stuff was obvious. But good advice to check the money trail behind political justifications. Almost never is the politician saying what is really going on, but instead he invents a plausible cover story he hopes will be accepted.

    The trouble is, we have become so accustomed to being lied to, that many people have either lost their critical abilities, or so disconnected that they feel everybody lies all the time. The media has given up on their responsibility to investigate the truth and instead have become propaganda outlets. Sigh.

  163. skzb

    Steve Halter: Thanks for the link. I’d never read that before. There’s a lot I disagree with, but it’s fascinating.

  164. Yeah, I thought the arrangement of 1) possible models of science 2) an exploration of Marxist history from the perspective of a progressive research program model and how 3) deviations from the model, such as Soviet Marxism, can map to a more robust model in the end, was fairly well done.
    Trotsky also came off well in both his arguments and predictions. The Trotsky quote
    “The fall of the present bureaucratic dictatorship, if it were not replaced by a new socialist power, would thus mean a return to capitalist relations with a catastrophic decline of industry and culture” seems to map fairly well to current Russian affairs.
    Things to agree and disagree with, but very interesting.

  165. Historical materialism is reasonably good at long term trends. It cannot predict all of the unlikely wild cards of any particular moment.

    Historical materialism would correctly predict that Germany would eventually dominate Western Europe in the 20th century and for some time after that. Exactly how Germany would come to dominate Europe is another kettle of fish. If Hitler had won, 70 years on there would either be a smoking ruin or there would be a more equitable relationship among the various parts of the Reich, though probably that world would be even sadder than this one. So now we have the EU, which is Germany’s much less murder-y version of making sure it gets its way. But we still have a Europe where Germany is primus inter pares.

    Rome was an empire that actually got things done and eventually provided participation to many of the new peoples incorporated. So it endured for centuries and eventually sublimated into one or two new civilizations which still have Roman bones when you look under the skin. It did not have to be Rome, but it had to be someone who would function the way Rome functioned. Otherwise, that empire would have fallen apart and been replaced by the conqueror de jour, until someone got the right formula.

    It did not have to be Christianity; it could have been Mithraism. But it had to be a religion that could latch onto the state and the public imagination simultaneously, with a self sustaining organizational plan.

    I don’t think current human understanding of historical materialism can get you much further than that. Really big, really general trends, sure. What your lifetime is going to be like with any useful particularity? No.

    As the climate gets hotter, you are more likely to wear a hat. But will it be an urban sombrero or a panama? Will there be a few decades where climate change deniers seize hats as instruments of sedition before they are ripped apart in a bloody revolution?

  166. skzb

    Many people see historical materialism as a form of determinism. It is not. Historians keep arguing about the issue, “Is there a steam engine when it’s steam engine time, or is there a steam engine when some genius develops it?” Historical materialism says, “both.” No one can create a steam engine before the material preconditions are there; but it also requires someone to come up with the idea, which may or may not happen, and one cannot predict when.

    Similarly with revolutionary transformations of society. That there should be a clash between slave and free sections of the US in the 19th C was inevitable; the form it would take, and the result, were determined by individuals (notably Seward, Stevens, Buchannan, Calhoun, Lincoln, Grant, Sherman, but others as well) who, for better or worse, put their imprint on society.. Pre-determined or accidental? Trotsky once used as an analogy a sort of Darwinian natural selection of accidents. Many accidents produce no result; many opportunities are lost because there was no timely accident. What remains is history.

  167. “If a scientist produced a hypothesis then cussed out anyone who questioned it, declared anyone who altered it for testing to be a schismatic heretic and expelled from the lab anyone who’s results suggested a different approach would work better, she’d be rejected as an ignorant crank rather then being held up as a modern prophet with all the answers.”

    Or she might be a tenured professor with millions in grant money at her disposal, whose dissenting postdocs had to flee to other positions to attempt to advance their careers–as happened to a close friend of mine who disagreed with her supervisor about the role of cadherins in synaptic function.

    You can get away with the prophet act for quite a while if you can achieve high enough status. Which is where the old saw about science advancing one funeral at a time comes in.

    Er, sorry for the digression.

  168. Plenty of evidence that this mode is more the rule than the exception.

    As skzb points out, an invention is of little use until society is in a position to make use of it.

  169. skzb: “Ah. I had not known this. I guess I’ve been doing it wron”

    Then I’ll ask a question, since that always makes me so popular. If Marxism is a method and not an ideology, why is one of the constants of the movement splintering? For example, this chart from the Trostsky Internet Archive only covers the Marxist splinters that embrace Trotsky’s additions to his ideology, but it’s still an impressive number of organizations:

    https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/trees/ustree.htm

    If we could find one that covers *all* Marxist orginizations, the Russian & German branches alone would require wall sized piece of paper to print out.

    You yourself have made declarations that you don’t find it worthwhile to even talk to people who might be political allies because their emphasis isn’t on the exact same points you feel are most important, that is, they don’t share the exact aims or point of view that you do. If there is no ideology involved, why do the exact beliefs of the participants matter? Buddists, Methodists, Evangelicals or atheists can all perform the exact same scientific experiment and get the same results regardless of any beliefs they hold on any subject. This is because the scientific method is a true method of investigation.

    “Perhaps I should get lessons from you on what I believe.”

    It’s incongruous to refer to what you beleive when we’re discussing soemthing you’ve said is a fact. I haven’t expressed any doubt you personally believe Marxism is a method. I’ve said I don’t see how it can be considered one, I quoted Luxembourg to support my idea that other Marxists don’t consider it one, and I’ve expressed dismay that people actually do think of Marxism as something other than an ideology.

    “Meanwhile, can you answer my question, please? What is your method?”

    Method in regards to what?

  170. skzb

    Because method isn’t easy, and is also class-based, and the workers movement is no more immune to pressures from capitalism than any other aspect. I am at a loss as how you consider what Rosa said denying that Marxism is a method.

    “You yourself have made declarations that you don’t find it worthwhile to even talk to people who might be political allies because their emphasis isn’t on the exact same points you feel are most important, that is, they don’t share the exact aims or point of view that you do.” Where and when? I said I don’t consider it worthwhile to talk to those who are hostile to my goals, or who are only interested scoring points. I can’t imagine what I’ve ever said that would make you think the other. Quote please?

    Marxism is the method I use to understand history and political events. What method do you use?

  171. My method is to wait for the wise men of the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal to tell me what to think. Sometimes when I think I might need a second opinion, I will read ‘The Economist” or listen to NPR.

  172. Mr. Halter,

    First, apologies for such a late reply. Ever since our big storm last month, every thunderstorm has resulted in a loss of internet access for a few hours to a few days. I’ve had no connection at home since Thursday, and radar shows another storm moving right now in so who knows if I’ll be online tomorrow *sigh* Anyhow…

    “As you read through it… ”

    I gather Burawoy’s work is new to you, so you may not be familiar with any of his other writings. I found his 1989 paper “Marxism, Philosophy and Science” to be less dense than “Marxism as Science”, but as they say, your mileage may vary.

    In any case, it’s easy to find what other people think; I’ve been hoping to understand why one particular individual thinks a certain thing. But if you’re interested in the wider field, here are a few items I pulled from my research database that adress the idea of Marxism as a science. You might find something new to interest you in this list. The quotes are just extracts from each work.

    Reason in Revolt: Marxist Philosophy and Modern Science (2005) – marxist.com (I quote extensively from this page because of its stereotypically smug personal attacks on Those Who Don’t Think Correctly, and because the author is so laughably ignorant of his topic while being so sure of his being correct.)

    It does this by showing that the scientific discoveries of the twentieth century confirm the very essence of the Marxist philosophical method, dialectical materialism. With a foreword by Eric Lerner, author of The Big Bang Never Happened.

    To many people, unaccustomed to dialectical thinking, the notion of infinity is difficult to accept. …

    Fortunately, it is possible to work out quite accurately the amount of matter in the observable universe. It is about one atom for every ten cubic metre of space. This is a hundred times less than the amount required by the big bang theory. But, as the journalists like to say, don’t let the facts spoil a good story! If there is not enough matter in the universe to square with the theory, then there must be an awful lot of matter there which we can’t see. As Brent Tully put it, “It’s disturbing to see that there is a new theory every time there’s a new observation.”

    At this stage, the defenders of the big bang decided to call on the aid of the Seventh Cavalry, in the person of particle physicists. The mission they were called upon to carry out puts all the exploits of John Wayne completely in the shade. The most he ever had to do was to find some unfortunate women and children carried off by the Indians. But when the cosmologists called in their colleagues who were busy investigating the mysteries of “inner space,” their request was a trifle more ambitious. They wanted them to find the 99% or so of the universe which had inconsiderately “gone missing.” Unless they could find this missing matter, their equations would just not add up, and the standard theory of the origin of the universe would be in trouble!

    In his book The Big Bang Never Happened Eric Lerner details a whole series of observations, the results of which have been published in scientific journals, which completely refute the idea of dark matter. Yet, in the teeth of all the evidence, the advocates of the big bang continue to behave like the learned professor who refused to look through the telescope to test the correctness of Galileo’s theories. Dark matter must exist—because our theory demands it!]

    Answers to the Questions of the Editorial Board of the Journal “For the Marxist-Leninist Natural Science” (1930) – Ivan Vladimirovich Michurin

    The question arises, where are those many thousands of new varieties [of fruit plants] claimed to have been originated both by Burbank and by all the other foreign fruit-plant breeders, about whose work so much and so frequently has been written in the foreign press and in our Soviet press as well? Apparently much of what has been described either existed only in the authors’ imagination or proved to he unsuitable for practical purposes. This is only to be expected because the conditions of life under the capitalist system weigh upon the actions of workers in every field in the Western countries. Almost any activity in those conditions is confined to making profit; moreover, a small group belonging to the ruling class appropriates almost all the products of the labour of the working masses.

    An entirely different state of affairs is to be found in the U.S.S.R. under the Soviet Government, after the beneficial abolition of classes. Here in the U.S.S.R. everything is based on the aspiration to increase by all means the prosperity of the working people. Thus, in our country such great attention has been drawn to the development of fruit growing that in the nearest future vast territories of our Union will be occupied by wide uninterrupted stretches of orchards-fields each having a total area of several thousand hectares.

    ,a href=”http://massline.info/Philosophy/ScottH/MLM_sci.htm”>Why Marxism-Leninism-Maoism is a Science (1997) – Massline.info (the site is now defunct)

    It has applied a scientific scrutiny to its own principles and methods, and continues to do so with the utmost seriousness. In fact, it has taken this task further than any other specific science, to the point where “the science of science in general” (or in other words, scientific philosophy) has become a component part of Marxism.

    Economic Determinism and the Natural and Mathematical Sciences (1906) – Paul Lafargue

    I may remark, in conclusion, that Marx did not present economic determinism as a doctrine, but as a tool for historical research, valuable only according to the ability of him who uses it. In his hands it has given us the theory of the class struggle, which explains the political history of human society. If after an essay with economic determinism Bax finds it defective, it is because, like all metaphysicians, he has been unskilful in applying it, and, like the bad workman, he ascribes his own want of skill to the tools.

    Marxism and Natural Sciences (1935) – Y.M. Uranovsky

    The aim of Marxism, right from its very birth, has never been the attainment of simply a philosophical perception and explanation of the existing world. It has rather been, on the basis of scientific explanation, in practice to change and upset existing relations, for the motive force of history is not the abstract criticism of ideas but revolutionary practice

    What is the connection between this practical, thoroughly revolutionary teaching, aimed at changing the world, and natural science, the science of those laws of nature which lie behind the practical activity of man when he puts the forces of nature to his own service?

    These are chapters in a book by Alvin W. Gouldner:
    Marxism As Science And Critique

    Marxism and theorists of the Marxist community have been divided, it has long been noticed,1 into roughly two tendencies: one conceiving Marxism as “critique” and the other conceiving it to be some kind of social “science.” Marxism has been divided then between Critical Marxists and Scientific Marxists, as I shall call them here.

    Philosophy, Science And The Two Marxisms

    As an intellectual system with an interest in knowledge, Marxism vacillates concerning its most fundamental “paradigm”–in Thomas Kuhn’s sense of that term. At times Marx looks to science as his paradigm of knowledge, but at other times he looks to “critique” born of philosophy.

    I include this link only because it’s so stereotypically Marxist – a member of one sect of Marxism making personal attacks on the leader of another sect:

    Their Science and Ours (2007) – Permanent-Revolution.org
    Chapter 3 of “Marxism Without its Head or its Heart: A Reply to David North”

  173. L Raymond, Interesting. I find it confusing that Marxists fight each other as to the one true path. Or why they fight more moderate socialist trends. It makes their motives suspect.

    I liked the reference to the Big Bang theory. I agree, they are trying to make observations fit the theory. As an aside, the universe is not 13.8 billion light years in radius (and thus 13.8 billion years old). This is because of the expanding nature of the universe that allows us to see things way past that boundary, but with the appearance (red shift) of that diameter. Astronomers admit that the Cosmic Microwave Background is at least 43 billion light-years away. But they are careful about how they say these things as it contradicts the popular theory.

  174. skzb: “Where and when? I said I don’t consider it worthwhile to talk to those who are hostile to my goals or who are only interested scoring points.””

    That’s what I said. Your robots.txt prevents search engines from scanning your site so I’m not quoting anything, but since you agree I clearly don’t need to. But as an example, you’ve said you have no use for those who feel racism is their biggest problem, even if their ultimate goal is the same as yours, because they don’t think economics is the #1 problem. I believe that came out when you were angry that some people use the term “white privilege” because you personally don’t agree it’s a problem.

    “I can’t imagine what I’ve ever said that would make you think the other. Quote please?”

    Your constant dismissal of what others feel is most important to them, for a start. Treating others like uneducated children in need of their leaders – in this case, a revolutionary party – is the sort of behavior that alienates potential allies. To refuse to even listen to people who try to explain what’s affecting them most strongly and insist you know their own problems better than they is simply to display a total lack of empathy. I realize you may not think that’s a problem, but I do.

    “Marxism is the method I use to understand history and political events.”

    I am flabbergasted you feel the need for a a “method” to understand history, but I was also flabbergasted when you said you wouldn’t consider reading anything about the American Civil War that hadn’t been pre-approved by MacPherson. Your approach guarantees you’ll never be able to view either current or past events except through the filter of a single individual’s perspective whose ideas you’re willing to accept as the yardstick against which to measure everything. But I do consider myself completely and totally answered now as to why you favor Marxism.

    “What method do you use?”

    I think that is a totally nonsensical question in this context.

  175. “Marxism is the method I use to understand history and political events. What method do you use?”

    “I think that is a totally nonsensical question in this context.”

    I was too flippant here. What you’re asking is what method do I use to cook. The answer would clearly be, cook what? I wouldn’t cook beef Wellington the same way as lemon pudding; I wouldn’t prepare borscht the same way I’d make Caesar salad.

    What sort of history am I studying? If it’s the evolution of a specific technology I’d approach the question differently than if I want to understand how the Teutons developed their religious observances or tracing the changes in a language. Understanding the use of law during the Icelandic Commonwealth would call for different tactics than understanding the Antikythera mechanism.

    Ditto political events, which are simply events close enough in time to the researcher that they’re contemporaneous rather than historical. The rise to prominence of Donald Trump and daesch have many factors in common, but that doesn’t mean a researcher would use the exact same approach in studying them.

    And of course there’s the simple requirement of knowing enough to be able to study a question thoroughly. Anyone who really considers himself a student of the Russian Revolution who can’t read Russian and must depend on translations isn’t serious. People who think they can explain in depth the significance and all the ramifications of the Panamanian Papers should be well informed on foreign policy, international banking, tax matters and/or the internal politics of the country whose nationals they’re studying. Unless their interest in them centers the general idea of transparency, or the internal security needs of law firms, or how a global firm handles an onslaught of bad. Even then, is someone interested in the aspects that pertain only to mega firms, to global markets or the various theories of fiduciary duty or client confidentiality? All of those would call for a different approach. The only thing they have in common is the need for a deep pool of knowledge in the field being studied. If a researcher goes into it assuming it’s all illegal (it wasn’t) or all open and above board (it wasn’t) or a joint Bilderberg/Illuminati conspiracy, then that researcher has already pre-determined the answer he’ll find. Likewise, if he approaches every question from a purely religious, economic or artistic point of view, he’ll torture every known fact to fit that mold and again, will have pre-determined the result he’ll find.

  176. skzb

    L. Raymond: Method means something different: It refers to how we approach the effort to understand history or politics.

    The strict empiricist understands history and political events in terms of facts, and denies that we can know anything beyond facts. The subjective idealist understands events in terms of personal truth for each individual, rather than attempting to discover objective laws. The mechanical materialist understands history as cause and effect, with cause and effect being rigid and inflexible. The Aristotelian divides things into fixed categories without movement of those categories. The objective idealist understands history and politics as the clash of ideas. My method, Marxism, views history and politics in terms of the dialectical effect of material conditions on human thought, and human thought on material conditions, and seeks to generalize historical laws with the intention of using this understanding to change conditions. This is not an exhaustive list. You have spent a considerable amount of time making digs, snide remarks, taking cheap shots, and heaping scorn on my method. Very well then, what is yours?

  177. L. Raymond, I’m reminded of theologians who deny the need for a hermeneutic in their understanding of the Bible. Their denial does not mean they do not employ a hermeneutic; instead it renders obscure to them the effect their hermeneutic has on their conclusions (or prevents them from using a consistent hermeneutic to draw consistent conclusions). We all have lenses and perspectives through which we see the world. I do not claim, as postmodernists, that it is the lens and not the view that is real – but if you don’t know the lens, you don’t know its blind spots.

  178. L. Raymond:I provided the link as you seemed to be professing ignorance of the subject matter at hand. If, you have indeed read the papers you linked to then that must be either a feigned ignorance or a most remarkable willful ignorance.
    Your assertion that, “In any case, it’s easy to find what other people think; I’ve been hoping to understand why one particular individual thinks a certain thing.”, would seem to place you in the camp of feigned ignorance in the pursuit of your quest of drawing Steve out as a subject of your study. This method seems to be a really bizarre way of going about things.
    If I might suggest, an alternative would be just to say something like, “I’ve read all of these things and think X. Steve, you seem to think, Y. Why is that?” In other words, just have an honest conversation.

  179. “I provided the link as you seemed to be professing ignorance of the subject matter at hand. If, you have indeed read the papers you linked to then that must be either a feigned ignorance or a most remarkable willful ignorance.”

    Mr. Halter, we’re done.

  180. “If I might suggest, an alternative would be just to say something like, “I’ve read all of these things and think X. Steve, you seem to think, Y. Why is that?” In other words, just have an honest conversation.”

    Mr. Doyle, I *have* been doing that. That’s all I’ve been doing for a while, trying to get a personal perspective. I realize there are plenty of people who feel because they’ve read what some think there is nothing to be learned from the first hand responses by others about those same topics. They’re more than able to wallow in their omnipotence without my help.

  181. Your quote doesn’t come from my reply, L. Raymond, so I’m not sure if you’re actually replying to me or not.

  182. skzb: “Method means something different: It refers to how we approach the effort to understand history or politics.”

    So that is how we’re passing each other. For me, the method encompasses how one collects information as well as processing it, but you seem to be using it only in the sense of interpretation.

    I think you cannot understand an event simply by reading what others have discovered about it and then overlaying your own interpretation. It requires a broad understanding of related events, it requires knowledge of the time & place in which it happened and ideally it calls for being able to understand any pertinent source of information in the original language so that one perceives nuances a faulty translation may miss. Alternately, a very broad base of knowledge within a specific discipline is necessary to understand developments.

    Saying your method begins with understanding history rather than building a solid foundation of knowledge of the basics is the same thing to me as saying my method of cooking begins with sauteeing the whelk corneas in olive oil. Reading the recipe simply has to be the first step.

    So to summarize, my idea of historical analysis a) encompasses the actions needed to collect data and b) the correlation of that data across disciplines and with other, similar events or developments to understand how it happened in relation to those other events, whereas your idea of method is b). Is that accurrate?

  183. skzb

    Interesting answer. I have a lot of trouble separating the collection of information from the processing of it–to me, they relate dialectically. I don’t think our brains are equipped to analyze data without interpreting it, and the process of determining where to acquire our data is also part of our method.

    In any case, however, you failed to answer the question. Please reread the question as I asked it. I am referring epistemology, theory of knowledge, what “truth” means. I’ve been very clear about my own opinion, what is yours?

  184. skzb: “Interesting answer. I have a lot of trouble separating the collection of information from the processing of it–to me, they relate dialectically. I don’t think our brains are equipped to analyze data without interpreting it, and the process of determining where to acquire our data is also part of our method.”

    I realized something this afternoon that is, to me, so basic I’ve been assuming it for you, too, and it’s where part of the inability to see eye-to-eye comes from. I assume competence is an inherent part of analyses and methods, while I believe you assume simple intent counts.

    If I microwave a frozen meal, I have cooked it, but I am not a cook. If I complete a paint by numbers kit, I’ve painted but am not a painter. Likewise if I complete a purchased counted crossstich canvas, I’m not an embroider despite having embroidered.

    Following a method meant to discern “truth” doesn’t mean squat when the follower isn’t equipped to benefit from it. For a person like that, it’s a useless method, an empty shell of an idea. Perhaps it makes one a Marxist, a decision I’ll leave Marxists to argue over, but it does not mean someone has actually learned anything, or is in a position to lecture others on anything.

    So when you say “[Method] refers to how we approach the effort to understand history or politics,” I agree with that in the general sense but utterly reject the idea that Marxism is in any way, shape or form useful as a method because it doesn’t include rigorous training, require basic knowledge in a field or include anything akin to peer review. It’s a method like paint-by-numbers and microwaving are methods – technically yes, but no one knowledgeable in a given subject would accept you have anything of value to contribue without having studied within the field which you’re presuming to analyze.

    “In any case, however, you failed to answer the question. Please reread the question as I asked it. I am referring epistemology, theory of knowledge, what ‘truth’ means. I’ve been very clear about my own opinion, what is yours?”

    This is the fundamental problem. I did answer it, but not in the way you wanted to see it, just as it took me quite a while to realize you had, in fact, answered my question, just in a way I didn’t recognize.

    And since I have no intention of getting involved with the Sanders thread, I’ll just gasp this out here: “Not incremental enough”? Really? That’s a thing?

  185. L. Raymond–

    The requirement of “expertise” is one way the elites control the debate. But is the expertise any more than just being able to mount sophisticated rhetorical defenses for the actions of the elites? During the late months of 2002, “experts” were those who supported the Bush/Cheney plan to invade Iraq. Meanwhile, Scott Ritter, who, oh I don’t know, ACTUALLY lived and worked in Iraq as a U.N. weapons inspector, told anyone who would listen that Iraq’s former supply of WMD were 99% accounted for. But Ritter was no expert to CNN and Fox news, as they did not allow him on their airwaves. And all those experts who were in favor of the Iraq war and said it would be a cake walk are still employed and making millions. So expertise deigned to be endowed and endorsed by the elites may not be the measuring stick you should use.

    Anyway, it’s pretty obvious by now that you can’t or won’t answer the question. That’s okay, everyone in this thread now understands what that means.

  186. “Anyway, it’s pretty obvious by now that you can’t or won’t answer the question. That’s okay, everyone in this thread now understands what that means.”

    Groupthink has solved the problem? How excellent for you that you don’t have to expend any personal effort attmpting to see another person’s point of view.

  187. Speaking only for myself, I am going to count L. Raymond’s immediately previous post as yet another time he ducked skzb’s question. What is that now, five times?

  188. Les paradoxes de l’art performance ou à long troll.

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