Monday, February 15, 2010

Capitalism and coercion

In my post What is communism? I draw an analogy between the privatization and socialization of political power (physically manifested as the direct use of violent coercion) and the privatization and socialization of capital (physically manifested as the additional value afforded by capital).

Commenter Chris objects, saying:
[Y]our analogy between power and capital doesn't hold true: people decided power should not be centralized because power is the control of sapient beings; capital is the control of things which work must be done to acquire.

The private control of capital is just a way to attempt ensure that people get the products of their labor in a form desirable to them. Likening private control of capital to private control of power, the ability to compel a thinking, feeling person to do something they don't want to do, is disingenuous mistaken.
Chris of course recognizes I'm drawing an analogy, that I'm not saying that capital and coercion are equivalent, but rather that they are substantively similar. However, he tries to undermine the analogy by establishing a substantive difference. Establishing a difference by itself does not undermine an analogy; to undermine an analogy, you must establish that the specific similarity that supports the analogy is in truth dissimilar.

Chris is not talking about capital in the same sense that I'm talking about. I completely disagree that "[t]he private control of capital is just a way to attempt [to] ensure that people get the products of their labor in a form desirable to them." This ascribes not just an effect but an intention to capital, an intention that I cannot see as being either philosophically, presently or historically justified. It is at best an element of capitalist propaganda, "We doing all this for your own good [which you're too inept to do on your own.]"

Chris attempts to undermine the analogy by asserting (more-or-less correctly) that coercion is, well, coercive, but capital isn't coercion. But that's not the substance of my analogy, which rests not on the characteristics of what is being owned, but rather on the socially-constructed mode of ownership, and the pragmatic rather than intrinsic value of changing that mode. (I'm also trying to undermine the argument for the intrinsic value of private ownership; if the privatization of coercion is not intrinsically good, then privatization by itself cannot be intrinsically good.)

Most importantly, Chris's disanalogy fundamentally fails because under present circumstances, ownership of capital does in fact afford its owners substantive coercive power. There are simply too many people on the Earth to afford all them — or even a substantial fraction of them — the reasonable opportunity for even self-sufficient survival. For billions of people, the option is literally use capital to produce or die. As important, the imposition or threat to impose suffering is as or more coercive than the imposition or threat of death. And even when bare survival is possible to an objectively self-sufficient person, that survival comes at the cost of severe and constant suffering. They might not starve, but they will hunger. They may not freeze, but they will shiver. They might not sicken and die, but they will sicken.

The difference between "do what I tell you or I'll kill or hurt you" and "do what I tell you or I'll let you die or suffer" is a quibbling semantic distinction that a person with genuine empathy and fellow-feeling must dismiss as being, if not completely irrelevant or trivial, at least as of only secondary importance. Our empathy compels us not just to refrain from imposing suffering on others, but to actually alleviate others' suffering.

If you do not feel this sort of empathy, if you can look at the suffering of another and say with all honesty and without rationalization that you simply do not care, well, that's how you are. I can't do anything to change your feelings; even if I could, I wouldn't without your consent. But keep in mind that a lot of us human beings do care about the suffering of others, and we care enough to do what we can to alleviate it. If you stand in our way, we will not give your well-being much more consideration than you give to others.

1 comment:

  1. If you do not feel this sort of empathy, if you can look at the suffering of another and say with all honesty and without rationalization that you simply do not care, well, that's how you are.


    And unfortunately this type of person exists and thrives in capitalism. They are the psychopaths, strong, often charismatic, successful, and regrettably sexually attractive, meaning they breed and increase the frequency of their strongly genetically-linked trait. At least until their partner realizes they're living with Charles Manson-lite, but by then, it's too late.

    ReplyDelete

Please pick a handle or moniker for your comment. It's much easier to address someone by a name or pseudonym than simply "hey you". I have the option of requiring a "hard" identity, but I don't want to turn that on... yet.

With few exceptions, I will not respond or reply to anonymous comments, and I may delete them. I keep a copy of all comments; if you want the text of your comment to repost with something vaguely resembling an identity, email me.

No spam, pr0n, commercial advertising, insanity, lies, repetition or off-topic comments. Creationists, Global Warming deniers, anti-vaxers, Randians, and Libertarians are automatically presumed to be idiots; Christians and Muslims might get the benefit of the doubt, if I'm in a good mood.

See the Debate Flowchart for some basic rules.

Sourced factual corrections are always published and acknowledged.

I will respond or not respond to comments as the mood takes me. See my latest comment policy for details. I am not a pseudonomous-American: my real name is Larry.

Comments may be moderated from time to time. When I do moderate comments, anonymous comments are far more likely to be rejected.

I've already answered some typical comments.

I have jqMath enabled for the blog. If you have a dollar sign (\$) in your comment, put a \\ in front of it: \\\$, unless you want to include a formula in your comment.