Saturday, May 08, 2010

Wrestling with ghosts

If you are going to turn every class into a wrestle with the ghosts of Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, Robert Nozick, Ronald Reagan, and Margaret Thatcher, you will look silly unless you first make sure your students know who you are wrestling with, and why your struggle is such a desperate one--why their arguments have force and power...

Brad DeLong
I agree with DeLong that you have to not only thoroughly understand your opposition, but you also must by necessity acknowledge when "their arguments have force and power." I don't say that anyone should pull their punches criticizing and condemning the capitalist ruling class, but unless you acknowledge and directly challenge not only their weakness but their strengths, an intelligent, skeptical listener will justly dismiss the criticism as unacceptably biased.

I don't think he's correct when he says,
The problem is that these nineteen year olds [college students] are from the upper-middle class of twenty-first century California and are at base do-gooder meritocrats deeply suspicious of large greedy corporations that repeatedly and recurrently try to sell them junk that they don't really need. They have not only not been programmed by the ideologies of neoliberal market capitalism and classical economics, they barely know that they exist at an ideological level.
The alternative explanation is that they have been so deeply programmed that they don't know they've been programmed; they think these ideological positions are matters of objective truth.

Remember: just that a nineteen year old can consider himself a do-gooder meritocrat indicates they've already swallowed the capitalist ruling class narrative, that the capitalist class is intrinsically better. In more-or-less objective terms, a nineteen year old has not actually achieved any merit. (With very few exceptions, at best her parents have overcome the mostly social, political and financial obstacles to obtaining adequate primary and secondary education.) The idea a nineteen year old can have any inherent qualities whatsoever that even impose an obligation or duty to society is itself profoundly ideological, and profoundly wrong.

And this is, I think, a fundamental problem with the capitalist left. The capitalist left agrees with the right that the capitalist class intrinsically deserves to rule; they disagree only on the rights and responsibilities of that rule.