On Dust and Identity

I’ve got this vacuum cleaner.  I think it’s the same kind Aaron Burr used.  It is held together by several pieces of dismantled clothes hanger and a lot of duct tape. It still works, in the sense that when I run it over the carpet it picks up stuff; the trouble is, it also spits out an amazing quantity of dust, which, of course, gets everywhere.

My housemates and I were talking about it, and how irritated we were by the dust.  There just aren’t enough hours in the day to clean up all the dust, so, what are the priorities?  For me, it’s glassware.  I mean, going to get yourself a glass of something and finding a layer of dust in the glass is, well, yech.  Another housemate pointed out that we could hardly see through the windows and ironically observed that he was getting kind of curious about what was going on outside the house.  Still another said that the dust was so thick on the books, that he couldn’t tell what the titles were.  And then, there are the problems with our computers overheating.  So, given that you can’t clean everything, what do you clean?

Another housemate pointed out that, if we pooled our resources, we could easily afford a new vacuum cleaner; one that not only didn’t spit dust, but actually drew in dust and cleaned up the air while working.

We stared at him for a moment, then called him a racist and went back to our conversation.


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0 thoughts on “On Dust and Identity”

  1. You got to keep the computers dust free. Connection to interwebs must be maintained. With that connection, you can read ebooks, look at webcams around the world, AND order new glasses from Amazon. Try interacting with geeks all over the world with a dusty glass…not nearly as efficient.

  2. Glasses first. The impending apocalypse will render puny electronics useless, anyway, and you need to keep hydrated and refreshed while you read all of those dusty books.

  3. Hi,

    Second class Meathead here. I didn’t get the metaphor either. Perhaps I don’t have the correct list of current events.

  4. Well, who are you going to buy the vacuum from? Every salesman’s literature tells you theirs is great, and their floor models work a treat, but that’s not the one you’ll get. When you buy, make sure you open it at the store and test yours there before trucking it home, so they can’t claim you broke it out of warranty.

    Of course, you could cobble one together yourself. Get a motor, make a brush, put it all together. The OS Lab tech in U of Waterloo did that in the 80’s, sort of. Strapped a dustbuster, solar cells, and a remote control car together, built a controller board, and it did his floors for him.

    The problem was that he came home to find his cat proudly standing on the “captured” device, upside down with its wheels spinning in the air. Best laid plans, eh? All it takes to spoil one great idea is a tiny little cat.

    And yes, I do get the metaphor. Despite the truth of the example, it fits. It is always best to test drive a new invention (or an old one in a new environment) to demonstrate viability before abandoning the disappointing old machine, because overlooking one cat makes the whole world an apocalyptic nightmare, as your wheels spin trying to figure out why your idealistic solution failed to live up to your dreams.

  5. Intake is the top priority. You’re certainly right about cleaning the dishes. Eating, drinking, and breathing dust is a known cause of many health issues. Instead of sweeping the problem under the rug, consider going for the source.

    Some amount of dust is unavoidable. If you leave windows open or have a lot of foot traffic from outside, you’re going to get dust blown in. You’ll also have a dust generation issue as pets, dead skin, clothing and bedding fibers, and carpet are disturbed. Books give off a surprising amount of dust as the pages break down. And of course there are microscopic teckla eating and breeding in all that organic stuff. It’s landing on your dishes and books and computers, but to get there it has to go through the air, and we can deal with that now.

    You can get a decent single-room air filtration device for $150 at your local megamart (washable filters, minimal electricity use, so maintenance is negligible). This will remove the particulate problem from the air, reducing the new accumulation of dust on your glassware and books, not to mention in your current filtration apparatus (your lungs).

    I’m afraid the worst offender is probably that vacuum cleaner. Racist or not, the beast has to go. You can find something better and cheap at a local flea market/ebay/craigslist (2 minutes searching, I see a $200 Kirby in Minneapolis). Some new models are available that claim zero emissions, but I can’t guarantee they live up to their effectiveness and longevity claims, and they are expensive. If it’s an option and you’re feeling extreme, get rid of the carpet entirely and most of the dust problem will vanish.

    In any case, once you’ve dealt with the source, keeping up with dusting won’t be such a burden. Clean the dishes first and you shouldn’t have to dust them again. Open up those computers and blow the dust out, or you’ll be replacing parts sooner than you should. After those, I’d go for the furniture (reducing emissions), windows (let the light in, for mental and emotional health), and save the rest for later (if books aren’t being moved, they’re not adding to the new dust). Once you make it stop getting it worse, making the housemates clean up while you convalesce isn’t such a daunting task.

  6. I was thinking your priority should be what kind of drinks (after the glasses have been rinsed out) would be best suited to complement the conversation at hand. And if the exchange of thoughts and ideas goes long enough, then what meal(s).

  7. I don’t get the joke about the vacuum cleaner. I’ve had similar problems with dust in my house and am now doing more dusting than I was previously. (I dusted off an old nylon string guitar the other day that was just sitting a corner and put on a new set of strings.)

    A day or two after that, a Latino street person offered me a free vacuum cleaner on the way back from my corner store. I paid him three dollars for it and carried it home.

  8. One of the housemates keeps deliberating using the vacuum to blow dust in the face of one of the women in the house. When she protests, a third housemate asks her why she keeps focusing on “identity politics” rather than uniting with the others to buy a new vacuum.

  9. Meathead number 3 here.

    Something to do with “dust is predominantly skin”, so if “you don’t like dust” you don’t like skin ergo you are rascist?

    Or have I just overheated my undersized frontal cortext for no good reason?

  10. >Gar: No, only the landlord claims it is done deliberately.

    Maybe the first time. But after being asked to point the back end of the contraption in a different direction and it still happens it is deliberate.

    One thing about metaphors. They are great for explaining ideas, but not so great as proof. Changing a metaphor around is just a way of trading assertions – evidence free arguing. Not a critique of the original metaphor. But I’m assuming it was a way of starting a conversation. And this point I think the conversation requires moving past the metaphor.

    So here is a tiny bit of evidence. http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2012/08/21/everyday-sexism-what%E2%80%99s-the-big-deal/

    Now I deliberately chose it because it is by someone with a professional job and a lot of the women being harassed are middle class women. But if you really want a revolution then people with office jobs are part of the working class. And it is going to really be hard for women undergoing the kind of harassment described to unite with the harasser against the bosses. And if you want revolutionary unity then you better be prepared to ask the harassers to change their behavior. Women don’t just suffer as workers. They undergo really awful stuff as women, and a lot that awful stuff comes from working class men. There is no way to fight back against that stuff only as a worker. Part of that fight is as a woman or as a man who gives a shit about women.

    I know that in the fighting back people can become too narrowly focused on identity, that people fighting for women’s rights can ignore working class issues, that people fighting for racial equality can ignore worker’s or women’s issues. But it is equally true that people engaging in class analysis can ignore the very real ways identities (often imposed rather chosen) can be the basis for very real oppression. That working class men can genuinely oppress working class women. Working class whites can genuinely oppress working people of color.

    So you are really asking the impossible if you ask people who get pushed around on these other basis’s not to fight back, or try to find a way to always fit it purely into class when it is not just their boss making their life hell, but random guys on the street and customers at work, and the guy in the next seat on the bus.

    And I don’t even entirely disagree with you. I think there is a problem where people build an identity as victims, and make it an ouch contest. But you also have to understand that people’s lived experience involves oppression that is not directly an oppression of class, and where those oppressions have historical continuities back far before capitalism. Women were oppressed by men under feudalism – in a very different way than under capitalism , but quite real nonetheless and in a way that was quite different than what men experienced in the same awful system. As a Marxist you can’t really that kind of historical antecedent does shape the form sexism takes today. Women’s experience all the oppression men do under capitalism, but they have a whole set of additional experiences too. African-Americans in the United States get all the same shit white workers do, but a whole set of additional shit too.

    So of course women and African-Americans will fight back against the additional shit, not just what the boss does.

  11. Gar: Every once in a while, it is refreshing to find someone with whom I can disagree without one or the other of us being an idiot or a blackguard. So thanks for that.

    “But I’m assuming it was a way of starting a conversation. And this point I think the conversation requires moving past the metaphor.”

    Correct, and good point.

    “I think there is a problem where people build an identity as victims, and make it an ouch contest. ”

    Be clear that that is not my issue. At all.

    There is a long history–often a very proud history–of fighting racism in particular (and male chauvinism, though not to the same extent) as part of the fight to build unions. Over and over, there are cases of successful strikes that could not have succeeded except that a fight against racism was carried out by the leaders of those unions. When I was growing up the AFL-CIO insignia was a white hand shaking a black hand. Whatever we may think of the trade union movement today, we can be proud of what it once was.

    Let me put it this way: focusing on sexual and racial harassment and bigotry *within the working class* as part of the fight to unite the working class is something I am all for, 100%, sign me up. Focusing on these issues outside of the struggle to unite the working class against capitalism, or treating them as classless issues, is dividing the working class, and hence, in my opinion, counterproductive at best, and in practice reactionary.

    ETA: In my opinion, the issue is not, as some have expressed it, that class, or income-level, is a bigger handicap in life than other disadvantages. The issue is that a) All modern forms of bigotry and oppression have class society as their root cause, and therefore b) the solution to the problem–to all of these problems–can only come from the struggle to end class society.

    Certainly, people may disagree with me on either or both of these; but that is what I meant by wanting to replace the vacuum cleaner, and being frustrated by the discussion of where to dust.

  12. OK, maybe I’m an idiot, but I don’t think so. I don’t always agree with your politics, but that’s OK, I enjoy reading your fiction and clearly I must enjoy reading your opinions on things because I keep coming back here to read them.

    However, I think you metaphor here stinks. It is unclear what you point is, and if you wanted to generate a discussion, it would have been better to do so more directly rather than make up some convoluted metaphor and then participate in calling those of us not so obviously blessed with your way of seeing things meatheads.

    And yeah, I know I can just stop reading….but don’t you want people to listen to you? Or are you just doing the talking for fun?

  13. Some dude: I at no point called anyone a meathead; Ashley did. I don’t know Ashley. I did not intend to imply agreement with that epithet, and I apologize if there was any appearance that I did.

    On the one hand, it is pretty clear the metaphor was too obtuse, or more people would have gotten it. On the other, well, the conversation is going, isn’t it?

  14. I suppose the conversation is ongoing, though I guess I never liked these sorts of things where there is a “smart test” to get in….which is what the initial post felt like to me, and I really don’t mean any offense….it just bothered me a bit. Your comment back to Ashley suggested that perhaps you agreed….on reflection, perhaps not. My apologies if I misinterpreted. Carry on. :)

  15. some dude: I can see where you might have gotten that impression; sorry for the confusion. And, really, I didn’t think it would be hard to parse; clearly I misfired. No apology needed. Carrying on. :-)

  16. Oh dear, it seems I’ve taken a Brustian call for help at face value, and have neglected to regard the needs of the dust. Clearly, before undertaking any irrevocable action, we must devise a means of communication with dust. Only then can we balance our desire for health and comfort against the dust’s collective wish to get all over everything.

    Either the metaphor is tipping already, or I’m still not getting it.

  17. >Let me put it this way: focusing on sexual and racial harassment and bigotry *within the working class* as part of the fight to unite the working class is something I am all for, 100%, sign me up. Focusing on these issues outside of the struggle to unite the working class against capitalism, or treating them as classless issues, is dividing the working class, and hence, in my opinion, counterproductive at best, and in practice reactionary.

    You oversimplify. It is true some of these issues (like race) were actually created as part of the formation of capitalism and others (like male dominance) have been so transformed under capitalism that capitalism is now at their root, even if that was not always the case.

    But the problem is that it does not follow that such struggles should always be subordinated to direct labor struggles. The key is that you can’t ask women to just struggle within male dominated lefty organizations and wait for progress until they have won the battle within such lefty organizations. Nor can you ask POC to confine their struggle to battles within white dominated left institutions. Women, People of Color, Gays, the Disabled and so on need independent organizations so they can carry out their fights without waiting for permission from larger institutions.

    This question was wrestled with in the Socialist International immediately after the Soviet revolution. John Reed (“10 Days that Shook the World” fame) argued for a position similar to the position I’m reading you as taking – that struggles for racial equality and gender equality and so on should be carried out as workers first and everything else second. And the international decided against him, that part of socialism was to support oppressed groups forming independent groups that were NOT subordinate to socialist organizations. I believe that decision was right and Reed was wrong.

    And such independent organizations can still develop class consciousness and move to become part of class struggle – especially if they receive help from open socialists. Having someone fight on your side can play a big part in making you open to their point of view. Martin Luther King was assassinated after he moved from just fighting for racial equality to intending to lead a poor people’s movement. There is some historical evidence that he intended to announce that he had become a socialist, though of a very mild sort. That was much more powerful coming from an independent base than if he had started out as part of some socialist groupsical. Malcolm X wone was making a similar move intending, not o socialism, but to lead a multi-racial class based movement before his own assassination. Even without using the word “socialism” I suspect Malcolm would have ended up with a strong class analysis.

    It is not that I don’t think class analysis is not needed in all movements. But I don’t think it is necessarily the starting point, and I think members of oppressed groups absolutely need independent organizations that don’t have to wait for permission from large movements before they fight for their rights.

    I am not kidding about class consciousness being important in all struggles. Someday, I’ll tell a story about how a labor/community alliance played a critical role in winning a traffic improvement for a local elementary school in the 60s.

  18. My guess is that the bag is full. Get a new bag and wipe everything down inside and you should be good to go :P

  19. “But the problem is that it does not follow that such struggles should always be subordinated to direct labor struggles. The key is that you can’t ask women to just struggle within male dominated lefty organizations and wait for progress until they have won the battle within such lefty organizations.”

    I’m not asking women to just struggle within “male dominated lefty organizations.” I’m not asking *women* to do anything. I’m in favor of the working class organizing for the transformation of society, and that all barriers to that, including male chauvinism within the workers movement, be fought and conquered as part of that process.

    With all respect, I think you misinterpret the stand of the Comintern. If memory serves, this was before Lenin’s death, and the position was that the struggle of *working women* not be subordinated to socialist organizations, but should be supported as part of winning those women over to a socialist program–including and especially those issues that are unique or especially acute in the case of women. But it was always about women of the working class. The issue, if my memory is correct, was tactical.

    And with this, incidentally, I agree: the problems of racism, of homophobia, of male chauvinism, should be addressed and attacked as separate issues, not ignored or waved aside with a casual, “The revolution will fix that.” If I’ve given the impression that I believe that, I apologize.

    But socialists attack these questions from a class basis, and with a class orientation. In other words, in a way that will unite rather than divide the working class.

    Any socialist worth the name supported suffrage, and equal pay, and the right to abortion, and civil rights. But no socialist worth the name will ever forget that these are class issues.

    The fundamental question here, as it was in the 1920’s, is one of program. A program that claims to advance the cause of women without regard to social class fosters the belief that it is possible for women to gain equality under capitalism, which is deceiving the working class; and moreover tends to work against the over-all goal, which is to promote the political independence of the working class from the bourgeoisie.

    Permit me to observe that identity politics is, today, one of the things that is keeping sections of the working class in the grip of the Democratic Party–one of the parties of big business. I believe that no serious progress can be made without breaking that tie, without the working class forming it’s own political organizations. In this task, I do not believe the politics of identity can do anything but harm.

  20. Hmm we may be having a vehement agreement. But on the other hand, why use the term “identity politics”? After all, pursuing issues without sufficient class analysis is not limited to the groups usually included in discussions of “identity politics”. When I was involved in some single payer initiatives there was a response I’d get from certain unions when I asked for their support. “Our members have great health benefits. One of the big ways we earn support is providing health care to our members they would not get outside the union. Why would we want government paid health care for just anybody? What would we tell our members their union dues were for?” Currently I’m part of an international group of environmentalists that initially formed in opposition to carbon offsets. It has been fighting an uphill battle to bring class consciousness to the environmental movement for more than a decade. Yet I’ve never heard anyone accuse mainstream environmentalists of identity politics. That is reserved for women and people of color and LGBT and the disabled and so forth. Also criticism of identity politics in those terms has kind of a problematic history. Normally when I’ve encountered it, the person using it is about to justify throwing women, or gays, or African-Americans or somebody under the bus. It normally accompanies a narrow, macho definition of working class politics, ironically enough often used by “centrist” Democrats to define themselves as working class advocates fighting against people who support unimportant things like women’s rights.

    And the other problem you mentioned the ties of a lot of groups to the Democratic Party? That can be found even more strongly in unions and environmentalists, groups that are not included in the usual usage of the term “identity politics”. Lack of class analysis and ahistoricism are widespread problems. Why use a term that implies that women’s groups and people of color and so on are guiltier of that flaw than anyone else?

  21. Gar: If you’re talking about the utter worthlessness of the present trade union leadership, you’re preaching to the choir.

    Identity politics seems the best description I’ve yet run into for programs that advance oppressed groups according to their identities regardless of class. I’m open to other terms.

  22. >Gar: If you’re talking about the utter worthlessness of the present trade union leadership, you’re preaching to the choir.

    >Identity politics seems the best description I’ve yet run into for programs that advance oppressed groups according to their identities regardless of class. I’m open to other terms.

    The point is not just that most (not all ) current union leadership is worthless, but that they are worthless in much the same way that certain kinds of what you call identity politics are worthless. Many union leaders think they exist to improve life for union members only rather than for the working class as a whole. (There has been a lot of work done on how mistaken this is even from the standpoint of narrow immediate union self interest. Unions with a broader agenda, a class analysis or something close to it, have more legitimacy in the eyes of their members and can mobilize stronger member support – plus community support when they need it.) I’m not sure the distinction between this and what you are talking about is worth making. Business unionism sees itself as advancing only the interests of a single union’s members, or at best a very narrow segment of the working class rather than the interests of all workers.

    Many environmentalists see the environment as something that transcends class interests and don’t understand how the class, gender and racial oppression lead to environmental destruction . I think this is the same type of error – trying to find a path towards solving a particular issue that goes beyond class.

    Maybe you are thinking of a particular theoretical mistake where people try to reinvent Marx by substituting some other group for the working class. So that some feminists try to claim that women are the fundamental root oppression and that class oppression stems from that, or some anti-racists say the same about about race, or some gay activists say the same about gender indendity. But a lot of environmentalists say the same thing about nature – claiming that disrespect for Mother Earth (always capitalized) is at the heart of oppression. Even among unions, there is sometimes a redefinition of working class as an identity rather than something structural. The idea that a working class person is someone who works with their hands and chews pork rinds.

    So my feeling is that the common definition of “identity politics” should apply in a lot of places that in practice it is not applied. I would say that the denotation includes great many more groups than the connotation implies.

  23. “Many union leaders think they exist to improve life for union members only rather than for the working class as a whole.” That, in my opinion, would be a huge improvement. The ones I’m familiar with have no program beyond their personal position and comfort.

    Hey, if you want to include environmentalists in the group, I have no complaints; it’s all of a piece.

    If all we’re disagreeing on is the term, then we should probably put this one to bed and eagerly await our next engagement. :-)

  24. SKZB & GAR,

    I find your discussion interesting in that there seems to be an agreement that trade unions (for the most part) have lost their way and probably even their usefulness considering labor laws that are now in place.

    The idea that organizations are formed, should be formed, need to be formed in the vein of protecting the rights of specific groups for the purpose of equality is noble, I think.

    However, my question is, what happens when the idea becomes the institution? This is, in my view, the common denominator for most organizations that, in the long term, become “too big”. When an organization grows to a certain size in power and influence, it can’t help but to become a vehicle to personal agendas rather than the originating ideas which, I think, is where the term “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely”

    Historically, whether in politics, business or organizations, it seems to happen more often than not. So the question, for me is, how do you stop something from growing beyond its usefulness? And I don’t think there is an answer to this when it comes to people.

    Perception is reality, and because this is axiomatic, people will continue to push their own personal agendas, which of course leads to, sooner or later, an organization that grows beyond its original intents.

  25. Scott: I don’t agree with the premise. Any of the premises. The problem with today’s unions, in my opinion, has nothing to do with labor laws. I think generalizing to “specific group” means one thing when the group is, for example, Wall Street bankers, or even “minorities,” and quite another when the “specific group” is the working class.

    I think history provides us many examples of cases where large organizations did not become a vehicle for personal agenda; usually because the organization was able to produce leaders who made the goals of the organization their personal agenda (Jefferson, Adams, Washington, Marat, Robespierre, Lincoln, Luxumbourg, Liebnicht, Lenin, and Trotsky are all examples that come easily to mind).

    Perception is not reality; reality is reality. The effort to understand reality is difficult, troublesome, and in some ultimate (and unimportant) sense impossible, but that is no reason not to try.

    I cannot conceive of a contemporary revolutionary organization growing beyond its usefulness until after it has affected the transfer of power. After that, I think it becomes less a question of size than of consciousness; that is one reason the consciousness of the working class–ie, awareness of its task–is so vital.

    See also: http://dreamcafe.com/words/2010/08/09/truisms-rot-brains-absolute-truisms-rot-brains-absolutely/

  26. “After that, I think it becomes less a question of size than of consciousness; that is one reason the consciousness of the working class–ie, awareness of its task–is so vital.”

    Are any of “Jefferson, Adams, Washington, Marat, Robespierre, Lincoln, Luxumbourg, Liebnicht, Lenin, and Trotsky” on the list of the “working class”? No, they are all intellectuals, lawyers, leaders, landowners, authors… intelligentsia.

    Your presumption is that the working class can develop a group consciousness that is fair to all and resistant to the abuse of the minority by the majority. But the “working class” is distinctly unenlightened. Try to explain to a “working class” why the IRS cannot give the FBI your Tax return without a warrant. Good luck with that… but now you want them to be behind that decision, and make the right one? You’ll get what you pay for.

    The working class are the ones incapable of gaining scholarship to institutions, because their marks were poor. (Don’t try to tell me that’s a race issue. In Canada, with it’s drastically different demographics, we HAVE white male working class. So does Britain, Scotland…) They are the wastoids that did not look forward during high school and wasted time playing football, pumping iron, preening their hair instead of studying. They are the drunks and losers that bullied and abused the smart kids, and wound up stuck in menial labour jobs for their selfishness. And you want to once again put the smart and weak under their thumb. Go visit a bar at 1AM and chat with your drunken “working class” heroes. Find out how hard it is to get them to take a swing at you. This is where you will find “wisdom”? Your own Graeber tells you that Violence is the resort of the stupid.

    You need your society to be filled with cooperative, enlightened people. But your “working class” were the Football players. The Working Class is the MOST COMPETITIVE FACTION IN OUR SOCIETY. Spend one minute in their pubs, and you’ll see that for yourselves. Oh, you can get them to spout Commie theory if you give them a charismatic speaker to mimic, but they’re fundamentally over-testosteroned males. It’s lip service, and will never go beyond that. They compete, because it is in their blood. And they expect reward for demonstrating superior skill.

    The “working class” has never been conscious of the pain of others. You’d know that if you really spent any time with them. How could they be expected to change that so drastically, and without charismatic guidance? All of the heroes you list were charismatic leaders, and when they fell, so did their movements. That only shows that those that followed them did so for their charisma, not because they actually understood the issues.

    Magic, I guess. Magic solves everything. If we wish hard enough it’ll come true.

  27. SKZB,

    Believe it or not, I agree with you for the most part. However, in making the statement of perception is reality, and realizing that this is what truly drives a person or persons (i.e. an organization) to pathways that lose sight of the original intent (i.e. organized religion, government, etc.) is what I believe causes the decay of usefulness for things.

    This is not to say that you shouldn’t try. My question for everyone is how do we manage to avoid it. You point out people like Jefferson, Adams, Washington, et. al. yet these founding fathers created an organization (the government) that has lost itself and the ideals it was created to protect (the people) in lieu of the personal agendas of people and other organizations.

    It’s not the organizations themselves that are corrupted, it’s leaders and followers alike over time, sometimes long periods of time, which allow for the personal agendas to take priority over the organization’s ORIGINAL intents.

    Perhaps this is a natural evolution of any organization as it grows and different leaders take over, and it may be unstoppable. I’d like to believe that everyone and anyone can help to affect change, however it seems to me that once that change has been affected, they then become the institution which in turn creates a monster of another color.

    That’s not to say that this happens all the time, but I think it happens often enough that it is concerning.

    The government is a prime example of these things in which it was founded by idealistic forefathers but if we look around now we see a twisted version of the orginal intent and, in some cases, something completely different.

    As I said earlier, for the most part I agree with your feelings on the matter, and agree that we should always try and strive for the betterment of people in general. I’m just not sure if that’s a possibility because, perception is the reality for most people. That’s why there is such vehement arguing and, sometimes, war as a result.

    Yes reality is reality, but most people “perceive” reality from their own scope and view, which is what I was really referring to and, I believe, is the cause of a lot of strife.

  28. Scott: That people perceive reality from their own scope and view, as you put it, is exactly why it is vital to strive for a scientific understanding of society. We (as a species) must learn, the way we have been learning about biology, astronomy, particle physics. There is no essential difference. There are laws at work, and we must discover, test, and understand them.

    In my opinion, the question is generally less, “why did these people become corrupt,” than, “under what circumstances did this corruption occur?” In other words, what were the material conditions surrounding the corruption? In the case of the US government, for example, it is pretty obvious that there was a huge difference between a new nation when capitalism was young and progressive, and an imperialist power at a time when capitalism is exhausted and reactionary. I believe this is more significant than the personal strengths and weaknesses of leaders. More precisely, the personal strengths and weaknesses of leaders are often the lens through which we can view the health of a society, or an organization. (Of course, that, too, can be carried too far.)

  29. My knowledge of the history of communism is rather irregular; I’m familiar with some periods and places but not others.

    It strikes me as rather sad that most communist nations — at least soi-disant communist nations such as the USSR under Stalin and his successors — have had worse problems with feminism (or rather, lack thereof) than many capitalist nations, where there have been several female heads of government and more female CEOs of major corporations, though of course still a tiny minority.

    For example, has there ever been, in any communist nation, soi-disant or not, a higher-ranked woman than the inimitable Alexandra Kollontai? I could well be wrong, but I doubt it. The only other famous female communist I can think of at all is Rosa Luxemburg, and she was never even a member of a government.


  30. Alexandra Kollontai was amazing. And Rosa Luxemburg remains one of my heroes. (Not disagreeing with you, just reflecting.)

  31. If you consider Israeli socialism to be “soi distant communism”, there’s Golda Meir.

    Again, it’s a matter for debate whether North Korea should be considered communist/socialist at all instead of basically a monarchy complete with creepy feudal caste system, but apparently one of Kim Jong-Il’s daughters was his official secretary and controlled access to him, and effectively ran the country for the years before his death along with her husband who was a high-ranked army official, but that may or may not still be the case.

    Obviously Jiang Qing/Madame Mao only held her position because of her husband, and her power far outstripped her actual official position, but you can’t really argue that the PRC of the Cultural Revolution truly was a communist state, unless the term is completely devoid of meaning.

  32. “It strikes me as rather sad that most communist nations — at least soi-disant communist nations such as the USSR under Stalin and his successors — have had worse problems with feminism (or rather, lack thereof) than many capitalist nations”

    Because people give lip service to avoid death and violence. If the lords and masters declare, “All members of society will treat all others as equal!” with the threat of gulags and death for failure to comply, then all will declare they treat others with equality. Doesn’t make it true. Just lip service to avoid pain and suffering.

    Only goes to show that you cannot force others into a cultural belief system. The gun makes no one believe anything.

    Yeah, that’s another attack against Trotskyism. Violence organized to create a new State is just cultural level torture. They tell you what you want to hear to avoid the violence of revolution, the same way they do in a prison. No difference. Except in the head games you tell yourself to rationalize violence.

  33. I think Socialists miss the main point, who or what will enforce value? Without that controlled value, why would people work or inovate?

    All your doing is changing value from enforced promissory notes and safe zone real estate to a phillosophy of common good.

    Value Phillosophy? Will everyone have to believe it? What happens if they don’t? The system falls apart.

    If you want people to not be slaves to capital/class systems, you have to address human biology first. Capitalism takes into account an in built desire in humans, like other primates, to want to dominate ones environment. What reality does socialism take advantage of or lean on?

    Socialism only works when an elite, for whatever reason, become highly benevolent to the people they are suppressing/controling. It works because there is a very strong divide between classes. It doesn’t work without classes of elite and non elite. Modern socialism is used to placate outright civil war.

    The only thing I can think of that might aproach the kind of human system that the author is advocating would be the introduction of a gift value system. A civilized society is a society who values people, and when you value people, you give them gifts. The propagandists could word it better but you get the gist.

  34. Mountain: If you want me to understand your position, you’ll have to define value more precisely; at this point I’m not getting it, or why it would need to be enforced, or what enforcing value means.

  35. Mountain: “The only thing I can think of that might aproach the kind of human system that the author is advocating would be the introduction of a gift value system.”

    Mountain, Steven does not accept that “value” is needed. One way to present Communism is “From each according to his ability to each according to their need.” Under that system, those that need get, and the value of what they need is irrelevant.

    The flaw is in the definition of “need”. An individual’s Needs and Wants are rarely accurately separated by most individuals. All most people “need” is oxygen, water, food, and shelter. They “want” lots more (comfort, convenience, free time, resources to practice hobbies, etc.), but everyone’s “needs” are relatively easily provided with a fraction of today’s manpower.

    What Communism cannot handle is Want confronted with Limited Resources. Steven said a couple weeks ago that he looks forward to the day when Socialism takes over and everyone has all the resources they need. He believes that our currently restricted resource production is simply an artifact of Capitalism and Profiteering: that profiteering Capitalists are restricting production to drive up prices and make more profit. Without those Capitalists in the way, he thinks we’ll produce all the aluminum, lithium, platinum anyone could ever need. It’s raw fantasy, since these things are incredibly restricted in the environment, but that’s his belief.

    Communism in the USSR/Iron Curtain dealt with rationing limited resources through the use of queues. Since money couldn’t decide who got limited production goods, they forced people to line up in long queues, so that those that spent the most time in line got what they wanted, while those that had less time had to go without. Modern Communists pretend that the USSR was not an accurate Communist state, but offer no solutions to the problem the USSR communists faced. They make excuses, instead of analyzing the failure and trying to find solutions. The USSR had such problems and couldn’t implement the ideal state, because the world turned out to be non-ideal, and the ideal theory had gaping flaws. (They also had a severe lack of the brilliant elite you mentioned, consequently filling management with useless turds-for-brains that could spout Communist theory from good memory skills, instead of selecting for intelligent problem solvers, but that’s a topic for another thread.) In the end, they had to decide “want-based-value” by translating it into “time” instead of “money”, which is just mental gymnastics. “Time is money” with the accuracy of that statement seen in the paycheck of anyone working in the service industry.

  36. –Skzb

    Value is, simply, a fractional control over one’s suffering. A controlled value is one which induces production of goods or services for a given/percieved reduction in suffering. The complexity of the capital supply and demand systems arises out of the varied forms that individual suffering produces or is made to produce.

    Socialism is a value that arises out of humane people who dislike that people have to suffer. Nothing wrong with that. I’m sure your a fantastic, likable person. Only, the problem that you have issolated is not suffering, but the process that uses suffering for the production of goods and services.

    Goods and services also address suffering, but because you want to be rid of the process you advocate spartan living conditions and greatly reduced inovation.

    So my question is, what value is to be used for the organized production of goods and services in the world you wish humans to live in.

    That you wish goods and services to remain is obvious but you do not address who will produce and distribute, who will inovate and recycle, who does the shit jobs, etc.

  37. I see where you’re going with this, Mountain. Permit me to suggest that that use of “value” is not terribly useful in an economic sense, but I believe I follow it.

    Unless I’m misunderstanding you, you see socialism as being based on altruism–as being based on people who think suffering is wrong and so forth. Probably some truth in that. But, fundamentally, it is based on knowledge of history, and hard economics: The current distribution system has been outstripped by production. By producing based on use rather than exchange, we can move forward. If production continues based on exchange, we’ll continue to collapse, and the gains society has made under capitalism will continue to reverse themselves.

    Organizing production would be as it is now, at least at first. The difference would be two-fold:

    1. Basic industry and the banks would be owned in common, rather than by individuals. For example, remember the GM bailout? Obama said the choices were letting it go under, or forcing the workers to take wage and benefit cuts. The socialist option is for the workers to own it (without compensation). Same with the banks. Treat them the way we today treat water works, or the fire department.

    2. The state, rather than, as it is now, directing violence against the working class whenever it tries to gain a little equality; would direct its violence in favor of the working class, to protect it as today it protects the capitalists.

  38. It’s the socialist option. The difference between anarchists and socialists is, to quote Marx: “The anarchists believe that if you abolish the state, private property will whither away. We believe the reverse.”

    Syndicalists believe that (anarchism, or socialism; pick) can be achieved without ever addressing politics–that is, the state. In other words, that trade union activity by itself can accomplish their goals.

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