The Dream Café

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

Election Post: Wouldn’t It Be Stupid…

| 47 Comments

Wouldn’t it be stupid to expect the same “rust belt” workers and rural white poor who helped elect Trump to turn around and defend immigrants, reproductive rights for women, freedom of affectional preference, and racial equality?

No. It wouldn’t be stupid at all. It would be, in fact, entirely reasonable and practical.

As a side note, I do not agree with those who simply say that everyone who voted for Trump is, ipso facto, a bigot; it is absurd as to say that everyone who voted for Secretary Clinton is a servant of Goldman-Sachs and supports war crimes.  And you know all of those who kept saying things like, “Prove to me Trump is a racist!”?  Well, our first thought is a quite reasonable, “If you really don’t think Trump is a hardened bigot, you are so far in denial there’s no point in talking about it,” but our second thought ought to be to realize that the denial, absurd as it is, is a testimony to the fact that even they think racism is a bad thing and should be denied.

However, let’s skip over that argument and get to something that is, in my opinion, more significant:

Where do you begin your analysis, with what is in someone’s head, or with the search for objective truth? Do you see ideas as the primary focus, so your first catagorization is “liberal” “conservative” “Clinton supporter” “Trump supporter” “racist” “sexist” and so on? Or, on the other hand, do you begin with objective social relations, regardless of an individual’s opinion: wage-worker, poor, capitalist, petty-bourgeois? I beg to submit for your consideration the following two propositions:

1. The objective is superior to the subjective.
2. The actual, objective interests of “rust belt” workers and the rural poor are exactly the same as their class brothers and sisters, and it is in their objective interests, however many of them do or do not agree at any given moment, for there to be racial equality, freedom of affectional preference, reproductive rights for women, and freedom of movement for everyone.

The media is a powerful force, no question: and the barrage of propaganda insisting  that racial and sexual lines are what really divide the country, must not be under-estimated. It has an influence, and we have seen the results in the presidential election. To combat these ideas, to argue for what is objectively true, is not easy. It takes work. But the work is made easier by the understanding that you’re right, that truth is on your side.

I believe that it is vital to build socialist consciousness among the working class, to build a revolutionary party for the overthrow of capitalism; this is why I support the Socialist Equality Party. But many of you don’t agree, at least yet, that this is a practical possibility. So, okay, baby steps: If you can recognize at least two fundamental truths, it is enough to start working:

1. The class that produces all the wealth has a common interest against the class that appropriates the wealth the toilers produce.

2. The class that produces all the wealth must be politically independent from the parties that represent and work in the interests of the exploiters.

If we can just get that far, we can start to unite into a force that would make Donald Trump tremble. Until we do, we cannot hope to defend ourselves.

skzb

Author: skzb

I play the drum.

47 Comments

  1. Over the course of this election, I have come to believe that socialist revolution in some form is necessary. I am not yet sure I believe it is inevitable, just increasingly probable. And I do not, alas, find the SEP with their anti-union attitudes to be a palatable basis for a socialist movement.

    But the two truths listed, I can certainly get behind.

  2. I understand Trump got the majority of union members to vote for him in some of the upper mid-western States. What a stunning rebuke for the Corporatist DLC! I doubt they will learn anything from it.

    Which is better for social movements, a leader who pays lip service and coopts and dissipates them, or a leader whose open hostility must self-evidently be steadfastly resisted?

  3. Well stated, my friend!

  4. Nicely said. Electoral votes and exit polls present a strong argument that the rust-belt workers abandoned by the Democrats are precisely the group that cost Hillary the election. Whites only had a 1% swing towards Trump vs Romney. Asians had an 11% swing towards him; African Americans 7%. Latinos had an 8% swing towards him (can’t make this stuff up). Republicans had a 4% swing TOWARDS Hillary (more “never Trumps” voted for her than Johnson and Stein); those making more than $50k/year also swung towards HRC.

    Democrats swung toward Trump by 5%, and it looks like a lot of those were in the rust belt.

    Another fun lens to explain the loss in light of Hillary’s early lead is that the MSM, by touting the inevitability of Hillary’s victory in an effort to discourage Trump voters, actually led to a lot of apathetic Hillary voters staying home.

    As much as I hate both candidates, if you view yesterday as a referendum on corporate cronyism rather than an endorsement of bigotry, the country feels like a better place to live. It’s at least somewhat reassuring to see that there’s not nearly as much evidence that Trump was elected because of his racism as there is that he was elected in spite of it.

  5. skzb

    ” It’s at least somewhat reassuring to see that there’s not nearly as much evidence that Trump was elected because of his racism as there is that he was elected in spite of it.”

    Yes.

  6. 1. The class that produces all the wealth has a common interest against the class that appropriates the wealth the toilers produce.
    2. The class that produces all the wealth must be politically independent from the parties that represent and work in the interests of the exploiters.

    I’m not saying I disagree with the sentiment expressed here, at least as I understand it. However there seems to be a few assumptions built into the statements. For example the “class that appropriates the wealth” is assumed to be completely separate from the class that produces the wealth.

    This may not be entirely inaccurate but simultaniously is too simple a statement to be entirely accurate. It is the difference between the two where the discourse lies and why such discussions have difficulty ending with anything truly productive.

    Put another way, if we could all agree on those statements we WOULD indeed have a foundation for future discourse HOWEVER that is a mighty big IF.

    Another assumption is that all those who would be a part of the discourse would themselves be reasonable people. This begs the question, what is reasonable? Who is reasonable? Is someone reasonable because they agree with you or because they disagree but are willing to change there minds? Are you reasonable enough to admit you might be wrong?

    Many of a persons beliefs and views are based not on evidence but faith. It is difficult enough to argue with someone who insists “I have faith in God therefore there is a God.” the same can be applied to everything else just as well. “I believe in reproductive rights therefore a reasonable person agrees with me” is just a very small step away from the basic argument.

    Personally I believe that before we start discussing what we can all agree on we have to be able to agree that the discourse itself, any discourse, needs to be respectful. That all by itself mutual respect despite strongly held beliefs that contrast each other has eluded mankind for as many years as can be counted, probably more. That all by itself would be an accomplishment generations not yet conceived would celebrate and expound upon far into the future.

  7. calisto01, I may be overly picky, but #1 and #2 are not sentiments. #1 is an observation, like saying the sky is blue on a cloudless day. #2 is a proposition based on the observation, which has an unspoken assumption: all men and women are created equal.

    As for respect, I agree entirely. I often quote Malcolm X on the subject: “Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery.” A surprising number of people fail to grasp that this offers a simple guideline: Has someone put a hand on you? No? Then treat that person with respect. It is pragmatic: people who are disrespected are almost impossible to convince.

  8. I’ve come across several narratives about the economics of Trump voters. This seems to be the most accurate: http://election.princeton.edu/2016/05/07/among-republican-voters-trump-supporters-have-the-lowest-income/

  9. I agree with #1 and #2. #1 is self obvious. #2 is quite true, but figuring out how to make it happen is the really hard part.

    The characterization of the “rural poor” having gone for T is more nuanced than some present it. Rural (as in non major metropolis vs country) voters did go for Trump, but there isn’t as much evidence that there was a “poor” difference. The most consistent number for Clinton’s loss seems to be that about 2 million fewer people turned out for her than did for Obama. She either didn’t enthuse them or they were turned off by the various scandals.

    Trump did score quite highly among white’s without a college degree. This correlates pretty well with people I know who voted for Trump. Many of them also seem (from personal observation not a study)to have the knee-jerk Socialists = bad reaction. This certainly seems like a demographic that doesn’t understand points #1 and #2 and have probably never had them really clearly presented to them.
    This always leads me back to increasing education being one component of leading people to #2. Interestingly Trump has said he would like to get rid of the Department of Education. Not a coincidence.

    On the racism front, I agree that yelling at someone that they are a racist isn’t going to win you many friends. Again, education and exposure to common goals is a path for combating that.
    For a personal anecdote, one of my brother in laws, niece and nephew are big Trump supporters. They also happen to be fairly racist. Nephew and brother in law are pretty open about it. Niece less so. Directly confronting them over this is not productive. Patiently and slowly explaining over the course of years seems like the only approach.

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  11. What I want to say doesn’t exactly fit into your story; I apologize but I want to say it.

    Darwinism gives us the bare beginning of a theory about organizations. The first principle is that an organization that will not be singular, must find a way to replicate itself with pretty good fidelity. Unless it can replicate, it will be a unique thing that persists for awhile and then changes into something else.

    When an organization replicates, there is no necessity that it be fair to its members. The necessity is that it copy itself with near-perfect mimicry. If the members have a requirement that the organization has to be fair, and fair while replicating, and otherwise they destroy it, that’s a constraint that can keep the organization from being created in the first place, or keep it from being replicated. But it’s theoretically possible that it could be fair.

    Here’s an example from a multicellular organism. Each cell replicates, and they all start out with essentially the same DNA. It might work better when organisms evolve so that different kinds of cells cooperate, but there’s a tendency for one kind to take advantage of the others, and it usually turns out all the same with some important exceptions. In this particular example, the organism started from one cell, and it grew to a solid ball, to a sphere, to a sheet, to a tube, etc and now it is approaching the time to create an aorta, the big blood vessel to the heart. It starts with a single line of cells. This line replicates to make a thicker and thicker tube. And the way it becomes a hollow tube, is that all the cells in the middle of the solid tube die. Maybe they can’t get food because the others surround them. Maybe the others kill them. I don’t know the details. But to have an organism with an aorta, the way that evolution has created to do that, some cells just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and they die. That’s how it’s done. Evolution has no compunction about killing cells to get a result. There are plenty of other cells where those came from. It would be possible to create a hollow tube some other way so that surplus cells are not killed. But it would be more complex, and it didn’t happen that way.

    Are societies like organisms? Mostly not. They don’t replicate very effectively at all.But the ways they survive are often brutal. We have an idea that it shouldn’t be that way, and often it is. There is no guarantee that humane alternatives will create the results that need to be created. If you’re cooking, when you change the recipe you change the dish. Some alternative recipes come out good and others not so good.

    Do we understand how to consciously create organizations that replicate? No. We try things, and over a period of years we start to find out whether they work. We never understand what works and what doesn’t. As it is now, the Roman Catholic Church is one of the oldest and biggest surviving organizations in the world, and nobody understands it. It’s just there, surviving. There isn’t room in the world for a lot of organizations that big, because they interfere with each other. Catholic symbols might be important, or they might be just a crust. Like the guy who thought the brass cannon in front of the courthouse was important. It might be in some way, but starting your own organization with a brass cannon probably won’t help.

    Bottom line: We don’t understand how to create functional organizations. We don’t understand how to make functional organizations that don’t do evil things. Particular organizations might do some evil just in the process of maintaining themselves, and we don’t know how to redesign them not to. If we wait for good new organizations to create themselves it will take a long time. The obvious approach is to try to use science and engineering — design lots of small organizations and see what happens with them, try to find out rules for how they work. I don’t have high hopes.

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  13. I, too, have come to believe that armed revolution is as unavoidable. It’s a *very* sad day for me. I’m back to having to convince myself to continue at all. I don’t ever want to hurt someone so that I can have his stupid car or something.

    And at the same time, I recognize that that’s all I’ve ever done so far. I just never see the faces of the people I exploit just by existing in a Western society.

  14. skzb

    Thank you all for a polite and interesting discussion. Just a couple comments:

    doylist: I think it is vital, if we are to understand the labor movement in 2016, to make a sharp distinction between the unions, and the leadership of those unions. The clearest example is Wisconsin, where there a mass swelling for a general strike against Scott Walker’s union-busting law, and the leadership, with much work, stopped it, saying it will all be fixed by a recall election. Heh.

    calisto01: Thank you for your thoughtful remarks. I hadn’t meant to imply those were the only two classes in existence, and mea culpa if I did. I believe the class that produces the wealth is, indeed, distinct from the class that appropriates it, but I also think, as you say, that there are those in the middle, who do neither, and some who do both. In a strict economic sense, for example, I am one: I own the tools I need to produce (a computer), and when I’ve produced I own the object I’m selling (a manuscript intended for a publisher), so I am, in a sense, exploiting my own labor. And others (career politicians, bureaucrats, some academics) also fall into this class. However, those in-between are not decisive economically. the other two are.

    Jon Carey: ” I just never see the faces of the people I exploit just by existing in a Western society.” Just to be clear, I use “exploit” in a very narrow, economic sense: a worker is exploited insofar as he or she produces more value than she or he is paid. In that sense, of course, we are not exploiting anyone just by existing. You may be using a broader definition of the word.

  15. As a member of both Working America and the IWW, I think I am clear on that distinction, although I admit the possibility of error. I heard earlier this year that the WS website fought the unionizing of its own employees. And when I volunteered to help the SEP presidential campaign organize, I was subjected to a lecture on the evils of unions and told donating money or sharing articles was more beneficial to the campaign than organizing people.

  16. skzb

    ” I heard earlier this year that the WS website fought the unionizing of its own employees.” That turns out not to be the case.

    “organizing people” is pretty vague term. The SEP believes (here is an area where I, also, have questions, so I can’t effectively defend the position) that the old unions are so hopelessly corrupt that they cannot be reformed, but must be rebuilt from the ground up. Right? Wrong? I dunno. But a far cry from being anti-union.

  17. I thought this post Scalzi’s Cinemax Theory of Racism was pretty accurate. While it won’t make you many friends (in most circles) to call someone a racist, people who voted for Trump are supporting racism.
    Getting a viable choice as in point #2 above seems critical.

  18. skzb

    Yes, I think it is entirely valid to say that people who voted for Trump are supporting racism. It is equally valid to say that people who voted for Clinton are supporting war crimes. The question is, do either of those statements give us a useful approach to making change?

  19. Self examination is often useful. For example, I accept the Clinton war crimes analogy also applies (that one will also doubtless apply to Trump soon enough). It is difficult to be the citizen of a modern day empire without having that responsibility. Most people prefer to lie to themselves much more than lying to other people.

    It is, of course, always easiest to attract people with words that make them feel good about themselves and fearful of outsiders. Trump’s speeches come out of a playbook that is thousands of years old. Getting people to do the right thing for the right reasons (like the proverbial horse and the water) is remarkably difficult.

  20. Here Kameron Hurley I Rebel is a good post with some things to do as things get bad.

  21. YES. Thank you, Mr. Brust. The first thing I thought when reading Scalzi’s piece was: wouldn’t all this apply equally (or actually moreso) to a “Scalzi’s Cinemax Theory of Killing and Displacing Brown People” in regards to Clinton… and be equally facile? I know you’re not a supporter of killing Arabs, but you support an Arab killer, John. Useless, inflammatory pap.

    This “I’m not calling you a racist/homophobe/islamophobe/misogynist, but you totally support one so you’re an asshole” became an acceptable tactic in political discourse towards everyday people faced with a repugnant choice during this election, and the people who used it are now surprised at the backlash? Unbelievable. Saw a quip on twitter that encapsulates this: “Maybe if we’d called more people sexist and racist in louder voices this wouldn’t be happening right now.” All this labeling rhetoric does is divide, giving side one points toward feelings of moral superiority, side two a reason to ignore side one, and those not on a side a fear of speaking their minds.

    The very people involved with pushing the pendulum left as quickly, loudly, and unthinkingly as possible have been smacked in the face on a back swing – and I’m sorry to say it is difficult for me to not enjoy the schadenfreude.

  22. Right now there are a definite percentage of people who are delighted by Trump’s victory and who are definitely hard core racists. You can tell this by the pointy white hats and the flags with swastikas.
    At this point in time it is hard to predict what path the future will hold. Trump has said a number of things that clearly support exactly those people. Did he mean them or was it just rhetoric. I don’t know, but we’ll see pretty soon.
    Sometimes, you have to point out that actions have consequences. Sometimes that makes people feel uncomfortable. Uncomfortable is not bad versus many other outcomes.
    If things don’t go completely to hell, how do we move forward? I don’t have a lot right at the moment.

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  24. Right now there are a definite percentage of people who are disgusted by Trump’s victory and who are definitely hard core racists. You can tell this by those “fuck white people” and “Trump is the fault of white patriarchy” posts drowning social media.

    Neither of our paragraphs – even though they’re both true – helps matters much. I agree the future is unpredictable at this point, and I agree that uncomfortable is not bad… I’ll even go further and say uncomfortable is better than comfortable, as it means more scrutiny. I’ll be right there beside you fighting, along with the overwhelming majority of people who voted for Trump, if he decides to try and push objectively racist or sexist policy.

    Sometimes I amuse myself by imagining Lincoln running in today’s political climate. Anti miscegenation, white supremacist, married a slaveowner’s daughter from Kentucky, mentioned that blacks and whites living together was harmful for both races… the absolute horror of it! Yet, it’s what the man did in office – the legacy he left – that defines him.

    It’s now up to Trump to forge his own. He has two months to prepare… I’ll be sitting, waiting for the die to stop rolling. Until then, arguments over what will possibly happen is like watching the flapping heads on pregame sports shows – sometimes enjoyable, but ultimately useless argument for the sake of argument.

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  26. Thank you, Steven, I really needed this reassurance tonight. =)

  27. One problem I see is that there are a bunch of Socialist parties and many don’t appear to particularly like each other. The SEP wasn’t on the Minnesota ballot, but the SWP was.
    How to put aside past differences and form a viable coalition would seem to be one step that would have to be taken.

  28. Steve: I’d like to discuss the concept of exploitation a little more in-depth, but I don’t want to hijack the conversation. Shall we talk over email, or FB or what? Or maybe you could write an entry about exploitation and away we go 🙂

    Jon

  29. skzb

    No, here is fine. Did you want to know how I use the word? A worker receives $X in wages to produce $Y in value. That worker is exploited to the degree that Y > X. It isn’t a moral judgment, just a description.

  30. Here is a silly story with a point.

    Imagine that a man who knows chinese looks through the internet and finds a chinese company that makes cinnamon-flavored scratching posts for cats. He decides to sell them in the USA. He creates a corporation and hires me to set up a website in english to sell them online. I use standard software to set up the website, and then I maintain the website for him. Mostly it’s all automated, payment comes in through Paypal, the mailing information goes to the company in China which drop-ships product, I just handle the issues that come up with websites, and also I spend a few hours a week spamming social media with the product, putting out mention of cinnamon-flavored scratching posts and my site on Facebook discussions about gun control and Youtube discussion about Barry Manilow songs and so on.

    There is a second part-time employee, who cuts my checks, pays my with-holding tax to the government, tracks profits and pays that to the government, etc.

    The “value” is the amount of money we bring in. The government collects some of it in taxes. The server costs some, and the company in China gets some, the automated website-hosting company gets some, I get some, and the other guy gets some. The rest is the company’s profit.

    The whole business would not happen if the chinese company didn’t make the product.
    It would not happen if the chinese-reading man did not notice them.
    It would not happen if the US government had not created the internet.
    It would not happen if the hosting company did not host websites.
    It would not happen if I didn’t create the website for him.
    It would not happen if I failed to maintain the website and it was unavailable.
    It would wither and die if I didn’t spam Facebook.
    The government would take everything in penalties if the other guy didn’t do his job.

    How much of the money do I deserve, as the only company employee?

    I think that capitalist theory tends to put it basicly on replacement value, but they don’t do a good job of it. Like, if it’s easy to find a website maintainer who can step in and replace me, then that work isn’t worth much. If it’s easy to find professional internet trolls, then that isn’t worth much either. And if honest book-keepers are plentiful, the other guy isn’t worth much.

    On the other hand if it’s easy for me to sabotage the business and make it fail, then it’s worth pretty much to persuade me not to.

    The original guy who started it supposedly deserves a lot for his creative idea. But I know every detail of the business, and I could sabotage his operation and start my own to take over the market. Capitalist society agrees this is a bad thing, so it’s perfectly legal for him to require me to sign a noncompete agreement and he can sue me if I do that, or if I take my information about him to one of his competitors.

    Similarly, after he does the ground-breaking work of persuading the public that cinnamon-flavored scratching posts are worth buying, it seems wrong to just let competitors copy him. So he can get a patent on his original idea of selling this product in the USA.

    So here’s a company with 1 and 1/3 employees. Y > X. Where do we go from there?

    I would really prefer a less emotionally-loaded word than “exploited” for this, but I guess it’s too late to change it now.

    It didn’t start with Marx:

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

    “Ricardo’s theory was a predecessor of the modern theory that equilibrium prices are determined solely by production costs associated with Neo-Ricardianism.[18]

    “Based on the discrepancy between the wages of labor and the value of the product, the “Ricardian socialists”—Charles Hall, Thomas Hodgskin, John Gray, and John Francis Bray, and Percy Ravenstone[19]—applied Ricardo’s theory to develop theories of exploitation.”

    It started just before Marx.

  31. Alright, sorry it took a while to reply, but here I am.

    So, exploitation is when $X < $Y where X = amount of compensation given to the worker and Y = value of the work performed by the worker.

    First, I absolutely agree that all corporate worker interactions are intrinsically exploitative.

    I have a couple of points(questions?) I’d like to raise with regards to that: Isn’t that a necessary requirement of a progressive society? I mean, there NEEDS to be a surplus in order for the company paying the worker to derive profit such that they don’t become a corporate analogue of the individual working hand to mouth, such that, if any unplanned expense comes along, they’re wiped out financially. People depend on their jobs; and the company deriving more value from work than they compensate for seems to me to be a necessary element of providing job security. Which doesn’t excuse OBSCENE corporate profits–but it does introduce a bit of a spectrum-type element: how much exploitation is too much exploitation?

    Furthermore, profit needs to be created so that it can be directed towards items that will not create any immediate return on investment (if any ROI is realized at all) ie, experimental science. Without the ability to allocate what is essentially disposal income at the corporate and government level, we wouldn’t have really anything that makes our lives easier–so there are benefits/compensations to the worker which go unaccounted for, I think, in a narrow transactionally-based characterization that is quoted above.

    So my thing is that I’m against the intrinsic exploitation creating an **undue burden** on the worker, which is absolutely the case on an systemic level currently.

    All of the above can be called into question if we reject the premise that the profit-motive is a necessary infrastructure for our society. But honestly, I don’t know what a society would look like without it, so I can’t speak to what might be the improvement for which a socialist/communist movement might advocate. I’m not even comfortable saying that it would simply be “different”, because, well, people are people. They like to exploit whatever system they find themselves in for personal advantage, even if that urge to exploit is itself derived from the profit motive in our society as opposed to it being instinctual/genetically based. Any new system has to be very robust to absorb/correct for people trying to play by the old rules when the game has changed.

    Secondly, dovetailing from the “it’s complicated” aspect of total compensation vs monetary compensation. In HR we have a term called Total Compensation. it refers to all of the value items/benefits which an employee receives as a result of employment with the company. Obviously, there’s the salary, but there’s also benefits, health insurance, tuition reimbursement, retirement plan contributions, stock options, hell even the prestige of being an employee at Acme Company could be one. Certainly job security is one; the ability to plan your finances into the future is not possible unless you can reasonably plot out what your future earnings will be.

    Anyway, not that many company provide all those things these days, but I’m trying to illustrate the non-salary based benefits that can be in play. I also mentioned above the more global benefits of living in our society, which for better or worse, were made possible by a profit-driven system, capitalist, monarchist, or even tyrannical etc.

    But that makes me ask about the usage of the word exploitation that I employed: I feel like I am, simply by existing as a white male in a western society, exploiting the labour of people in underprivileged countries. I buy items like clothes and food at prices that couldn’t be possible unless someone along the line is really getting screwed; whether that’s a child labourer in Cambodia making my shoes or a Mexican undocumented worker in a strawberry field being held hostage with their immigration status etc. The US’s current position as an economic leader is in no small part because they had for some 2 centuries a gigantic unpaid labour force, and had the incredible luck to be an ocean away from 2 devastating wars that left them relatively undamaged when the other combatant’s whole countries were just flattened by bombs.

    As a result, they get to negotiate from a position of strength on economic factors like import/export tariffs, which are advantageous to us, and disadvantageous to them.

    Is that type of thing not exploitation of the worker as well?

  32. skzb

    Jon: Thanks for the thoughtful comments and questions.

    The first thing I want to address is this: “there NEEDS to be a surplus in order for the company paying the worker to derive profit such that they don’t become a corporate analogue of the individual working hand to mouth, such that, if any unplanned expense comes along, they’re wiped out financially. ”

    A surplus, of course, yes. But that does not require exploitation. Exploitation is from owner to worker–but what if the worker IS the owner? More, what if all of society are owners in common and workers in common? It becomes easy to create a surplus, but, clearly, ends exploitation.

    “People…like to exploit whatever system they find themselves in for personal advantage, even if that urge to exploit is itself derived from the profit motive in our society as opposed to it being instinctual/genetically based.”

    Point #14 of the link below may answer that. If not, I’ll take another swing at it.

    http://dreamcafe.com/2013/09/13/answers-to-a-few-things-im-tired-of-hearing/

    “The US’s current position as an economic leader is in no small part because they had for some 2 centuries a gigantic unpaid labour force, ”

    I do not believe so. In fact, one of the main reasons the U.S. Civil War was fought was because the slave system, while producing immense wealth for the slave owners, was NOT expanding the economy of the Nation, on the contrary, was stifling it, thus driving Northeastern Capitalism to break its power. The position of US Capitalism is a result of several things, but the most important were:

    1. The immense territory with resources and markets that permitted the growth of capitalism at an unprecedented speed,
    2. Independence was achieved at an historical moment that permitted the US to steal all of the technology that was the foundation of the Industrial Revolution, but not so late that it became dominated by more advanced countries.
    3. The unique position of labor being scarce and resources rich, combined with the opposite situation in Europe, created an explosive growth in which capitalism could spread without hindrance from the late 18th Century to the end of the 19th, by which time all of the infrastructure was in place for unprecedented industrial development.

    As to your last point, you might say that we are *enabling* exploitation, but that is not a useful way to look at it, because if we were to stop consuming those things, those third world super-exploited workers would simply starve. As long as capitalism exists, human needs and wants will be the cause of immense power and wealth for a tiny fraction, and suffering for the overwhelming majority. That isn’t on you, it’s on capitalism.

    (And, for the record, that doesn’t mean capitalism is “evil” outside of historic context; at one point it was a huge progressive step forward for humankind, both in terms of developing the productive forces, and for its requirements to expand human freedom. But it’s had its run, and it’s time to move on before it kills us.)

  33. I took a look at #14 and I think this is one of the areas where you’re most “pie in the sky” with your ideas. And I think (I THINK) it originates from a personality trait which is, perhaps, fairly uncommon. I am beginning to suspect that you feel the need to accumulate stuff the way other people do. If true, that would explain the difficulty you have imagining what it could be like for someone who does. I could be wrong about this–in fact I probably am. But if I am, then I don’t know why you’re having such trouble with this rather rudimentary aspect of human psychology.

    People accumulate stuff for a variety of reasons. 1, to feel more comfortable; 2) to feel more secure, ie to assuage a fear, which is closely linked to 1) but not quite the same; 3) to feel more powerful, which is closely linked to 2, but not quite the same; 4) to feel superior (or to avoid feeling inferior) to someone else, which is closely linked to 3, but not quite the same; and 5) to convince themselves that OTHERS think/are convinced that you are 1, 2, 3 and 4. The reasons for this behaviour revolve, at their most fundamental level, around our procreative drive.

    Put in different terms, to 1) spend less resources, 2) protect existing resources, 3) accumulate more resources, 4) increase your feeling of intrinsic worth relative to others; and 5) to have others buy in to perception of 4), since humanity is inextricably hard-wired to be a communal creature.

    You can’t create a society where wealth is communal and just wish away those fundamental motivating aspects of human behaviour. While It’s TRUE that those behaviours would be pointless and nonsensical in such a society, they would nevertheless continue because humans are remarkably hide-bound…and I think I mean that literally. Humans behave irrationally quite a lot of the time. They do stupid, pointless and nonsensical things. Sometimes they have a justification. Sometimes they have no idea why they do something (or lack the awareness of what’s going on in their heads). But, and here’s a key point: You can’t logic away an emotion. You can’t emotion away logic. They are 2 different, often overlapping, often conflicting, but DIFFERENT ways of processing information that both exist simultaneously in our heads. You can’t change reality just by closing your eyes and wishing really hard.

    You CAN change reality by other processes; but these take time, and in the case of changing the instincts of humanity, I suspect it will take a VERRRRY long time–so long it might be indistinguishable from a natural evolutionary change.

    I am personally not willing to wait THAT long to see a socialist society put in place; but while it would be a fulfillment for me like few others, I strongly suspect that our instincts would doom it to failure just like every other system of government ultimately fails. As far as herd (community-based) animals go, we’re REMARKABLY difficult to herd.

    I will defer to the history lesson that you provided re: the ascendancy of the US in the global market place–it’s obviously much better informed than my own essentially para-rectal theories are.

    I also fully agree with the sentiment of your final two paragraphs.

  34. err “that you DONT feel the need to accumulate stuff”

  35. skzb

    All of the reasons you give have, in my opinion, their fundamental cause in fear of not having enough. A very, very reasonable fear given a society in which so many do not have enough. This fear will not vanish in an instant after the creation of a workers state, but I do not see any reason for it to continue surviving indefinately after the conditions that caused it have vanished.

    And, in fact, I DO feel the need to accumulate stuff. But I recognize that the origin of the need is conditioning in response to a very definite social environment.

  36. One of the reasons I believe the idea won’t work is because of China. The culture emphasizes community over the individual to a degree that we here in the US would find highly unusual, even neurotic. Their children are raised from the start to believe that the family/village/city/country is far more important than they are as individuals. They have thousands of years of history of this social conditioning in place.

    But its history, no less than any other country, is rife with people who act in their own self-interest despite that conditioning.

    Which is a little ironic, because I mentioned how we’re inextricably a communal creature. Why is it so hard for us to behave as a herd in fact as well as name?

    Because we are also inextricably individualistic. And therein lies one of the fundamental problems with our society. We all want to rule our own lives, but require a community in order to achieve our various goals. This community rightly insists that we modify our behaviour for the greater good; and to a degree, most of us abide by those limits. But if we think we can get away with it; if we can better our situation, even at the expense of the community, without anyone becoming aware of it, I’d say a very significant portion of the population would break those rules. More than 50%? I’m not sure. But enough that it can’t be easily explained away by “moral turpitude” or other social conditioning factors.

  37. I agree, Steve, there would be no reason for it to continue to exist after we changed the conditions. But the flaw there is the word “reason”. Emotions don’t obey reason. They do their own thing.

    Perhaps we can utilize emotional conditioning as a means to address this problem in a socialist society; but using logic will never work.

  38. On the other hand, one of the things that humans have going for them is their ability to adapt to a huge variety of situations. Perhaps we could leverage that ability to allow us to become accustomed to a society where those fears don’t drive so much of our behaviour. It’s a bit of a stretch, if you ask me, but it’s better than I’ve been able to come up with so far :/

  39. skzb

    Your argument about rationality might be valid if such things as attitudes toward acquisition were conscious decisions. In general, they are not. They are responses to stimuli. Or, to be more precise, if a dog is starved long enough, it will likely have unusual responses to food, and these can continue for years after it is no longer starving, perhaps its whole life. But its puppies are unlikely to have them, and its’ their puppies certainly will not. We’re playing the long game here, and if it takes a couple of generations, then that’s what it takes.

  40. I don’t know if I follow your objection: “your argument about rationality might be valid if such things…were conscious decisions.”

    But…my argument is that they AREN’T conscious decisions. My argument is that we can’t cognitively control our emotional mind very effectively, and the reverse is true as well. Sometimes one mind can influence the other; but it’s not reliable, nor is it persistent, nor is the depth of the influence constant. But it is probably not accidental that the phrase is “win their hearts and minds” instead of winning just their hearts, or just their minds.

    Complicating things is the fact that that nature AND nurture both play a part and it is incredibly difficult to distinguish when one is going on vs the other; or more likely, when both are happening at once, dynamically responding to the situation. I’d say there are many moving parts but I think a more accurate characterization is that there are precious few “static” parts.

    I liken our attitudes towards the profit-motive as akin to an addiction. We are so accustomed to it that we feel like we need it to survive; we cannot imagine life without it; getting rid of it seems impossible, and even if it were possible, it would be catastrophic to the addicted person (withdrawal etc). The idea of changing causes us to react with denial, fear, skepticism, rationalizations, excuses etc…in short every defense mechanism we can muster to maintain the status quo, not because the status quo is GOOD for us, but because it’s what we know.

    Someone who is addicted can be fully, 100% aware of all the damage the addiction has done, is doing, and will do in their lives. And can go to support groups, and come up with 1000 reasons to quit, and yet, many continue their addictive behaviour despite these things. This is because addiction, in my opinion, primarily interacts with the emotional mind. People who do kick their addictions frequently cite the motive & willpower to do so coming from a realization that they hit rock bottom, because they don’t want to/can’t feel that way anymore, because to continue any further might mean their death. The fear and shame and anxiety that the addiction previously masked become so powerful that the addiction no longer offers even an illusory benefit to the user. The very emotions that drove them to start the habit provide the power to overcome the habit.

    Revolutions are the same way: people will go along with whatever system which they believe will offer more benefits than costs. It might not matter that some or all of these benefits are lies–there’s a powerful factor in “the way it’s always been done”. But revolutions occur when a populace hits rock bottom and they decide that won’t/can’t take it anymore; that, whatever else may come, even if the change ends up killing them, it CAN’T be worse than living the status quo. It’s a simple decision, really. To continue has more chance of killing you than to revolt. When things get to that point, that’s when uprisings happen.

    At issue is that revolutions don’t address the reasons why revolutions, ie, those things that come back round again and again, continue to happen; ie, the profit-motive. The profit-motive is our true addiction. And it is VERY well entrenched. So much so that the prospect of kicking this habit leaves us without the ability to recall or imagine a reasonable and viable alternative.

    It is almost universally true that someone recovering from addiction needs to find something to replace their addictive behaviour with. People who don’t find something to do with their free time, and/or a way to distract their mind when a craving comes up, typically end up relapsing.

    It is worth noting that people who take up these “other things” will typically be skeptical that the replacement behaviour will be effective in helping them control their cravings. But if they do what they’re supposed to diligently, they will find to their surprise that, holy shit, it actually worked!

    That’s where I think we are (or at the very least, where I am) with regards to adopting a socialist system of government. That skeptical phase of “are you serious? there’s no WAY that’ll work”.

    Maybe I just need to have a little more faith and be sure to cultivate socialism through regular practice 🙂

  41. oh yeah, the topic was the nature of exploitation…whoops 😛 Got a little side-tracked there

  42. skzb

    Well, of course, we can put the nature part in perspective when we realize that hunter-gatherer society do not have the problem of individuals wanting to acquire things. Yes, we get used to it, as individuals. Why would this carry on for unlimited generations? When I say there’s no reason, it is like saying, “This rock won’t suddenly rise into the air, there is no reason for it,” so your argument that the rock isn’t a reasoning thing seems beside the point.

  43. Sorry, Steve, I don’t understand. Can you rephrase it for me?

    I’m attempting to describe my belief that our instincts cannot be effectively targeted/influenced (which is not to say that they can’t be targeted at all) by our logic-based decision-making processes because they are the product of emotion-based decision-making processes. They’re like oil and water. They can “get together” on some things, but you have to work really hard to accomplish that, and then you have to work even harder to keep it that way.

    You seem to be saying that our emotions (instincts?) cannot be rationally targeted/influenced at all–such a thing would be like a rock rising into the air? That doesn’t seem right to me, though, since you’ve previously been very insistent that we CAN overcome the obstacles presented by our instincts.

    The first part of your argument seems to be positing that there is no nature side to the nature/nurture debate, ie, that all behaviours are acquired. Is that correct? Assuming that is so, and that you’re correct in that assertion, then your logic that we can re-program ourselves is perfectly sound and I agree with your conclusions.

    Sorry if I’m being a blockhead and missing something obvious 🙁

  44. skzb

    It seems to me that the desire to accumulate must be instinctive, a response to social conditions, or some combination.

    If it is instinctive, then why isn’t it displayed in a hunter-gatherer cultures?

    If it is a response to social conditions, then it will change when those conditions change. Not, of course, instantly, but certainly within a couple of generations.

  45. my immediate response would be that either hunter/gatherer cultures spend all their time just surviving that they don’t have time/energy to develop resources. The increase in disposable resources afforded to us by technological advancements from the wheel to the particle accelerator allows us to spend more time preparing for a “rainy day”?

    Otherwise, it might be that the accumulation of resources looks differently in those cultures–different enough that we might not recognize it for what it is. Perhaps a hut is the height of luxury? I don’t know, just grasping at straws here.

    Could you link to some examples of the absence of the profit-motive in H/G cultures? Maybe a closer look at specific circumstances might yield some additional insight.

    Otherwise, I was about to type that your predictions re: the couple of generations timeframe for changing social conditioning seemed to me to be a little optimistic; racism, for example, has survived for centuries if not millenia, depending on what you believe the source of racism is.

    But then I realized that, as our ability to communicate/exchange ideas improves, the speed of social change is accelerating, with there is no end in sight for that acceleration. Some problems are more deeply entrenched than others, but…perhaps you are right. Perhaps a couple of generations isn’t optimistic –maybe it’s even a conservative estimate!

  46. skzb

    The two cases I’ve “studied” (ie, two popular books I’ve read that concentrated on a single culture) are The Forest People and Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes.. Those plus various surveys indicate acquisitiveness is non-existent.

    I did a google for “acquisitiveness hunter gatherer cultures” and here is the first link that came up: https://libcom.org/history/hunter-gatherers-mythology-market-john-gowdy

    Here is the second (see point #8): http://hunter-gatherers.org/facts-and-theories.html

    Your point about racism is spot on: it has survived exactly because it serves an economic purpose. The economic value is brilliantly summed up by Martin Luther King (I am, in general, not a fan, but this passage is outstanding) in paragraph 8-11 here: http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/documentsentry/doc_address_at_the_conclusion_of_selma_march.1.html (although it’s worth reading the whole thing).

  47. “If it is instinctive, then why isn’t it displayed in a hunter-gatherer cultures?”

    Modern hunter-gatherer cultures have mostly been pushed into marginal land where they have to travel to get enough food. Like sheep that would overgraze if kept on too small a pasture for too long, they must move in a circuit to places that will be ready for them when they arrive. If your possessions consist of what you can carry with you on your back, you won’t get too acquisitive. People might have some small favorite tools, maybe some favorite jewelry. When you don’t consistently have places to store stuff that are safe from the weather, you won’t want possessions unless they’re weatherproof.

    They are quite possessive about their land, though. In some places people are fine with people they have no quarrel with living on their land when they don’t need it, but they want it clearly understood by everybody who owns it and who gets to use it if there’s a drought or something.

    What about places where there’s so much food people can stay put? There have been places like that without agriculture. Did people get all acquisitive then? I dunno. Not a lot of evidence.

    My guess is that people tended to want to acquire things that would help them survive in adversity. In good times the living is easy. Then sometimes it gets hard and some of the people die. People who have an advantage living through that might want to keep their advantage.

    So for example if it’s possible to preserve food and store it for bad times, that’s something worth owning. You can share when the time comes, but it’s good if you don’t have to share, but can do it if you want to.

    Places with permafrost it’s easy to build iceboxes and store food. Every place I’ve heard of, it’s considered extremely rude to raid somebody else’s cache. After all he might come by later and need it, and find it empty. People prefer to go hungry rather than do that. Is it acquisitive to have private food caches? I guess. But if you build them because you know you’ll need them, why should someone who didn’t build their own get to take yours without your permission?

    The impression I have is that when humans are dependent on the bounty of nature and can do nothing today to help themselves tomorrow, then they aren’t very acquisitive at all.

    When they can work today to help themselves tomorrow, then they may come to want to improve their future survival. Places where they survive as a community, they look for ways to help the community survive. Places where there isn’t as much community they try to help their own future survival.

    Acquiring things can be part of that. But acquiring cooperation from other humans is far more important. Usually, good slaves are far more valuable than any object. Good resourceful friends are more valuable still.

    It’s all cultural, though, and the most dependable rule is that cultures vary. There could be a big variety of reasons for cultures to forbid some people from developing any permanent advantage over others. The There Are Snakes people seemed to have a strong sense of who they were, that forbid them to act outside of a narrow range of behaviors. I don’t know why. Someone who does the wrong things is not one of them but somebody else, and drifts away. I’m not sure how much the author understood about it. I’m not sure how much I understand of what he said.

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