Friday, November 24, 2017

Class structuralism

I forget where the specific comments are, but going by memory In his comments, new (and most welcome!) prolific commenter Dustin leveled the charge that the people in the professional-managerial class (PMC) were by and large total assholes. He's mostly right, but I think there's a more important critique that gets smothered by moral indignation at people.

To an extent, people in the PMC were assholes. First, they are an elite, and people in any elite are elitist. They really do think they're better than the masses. Criticizing an elite for thinking they're better is like criticizing the rich for thinking he has more money than the poor. Of course elites think they're better than the masses — that's the whole point of being among the elite — and when pressed, they would answer, "Yes, I think I'm better than you because I am better than you: I'm smarter, better educated, and more cultured. Me and my friends are running the world because we can run it better than you can."

The point is not whether they are correct about actually being better (they're not); the point is that criticizing people just because they do something they believe is right as if it were obviously wrong is not only ineffective but counterproductive.

(It's not counterproductive per se if the goal is to simply express one's personal animosity, but it's certainly ineffective when spoken to me personally because I don't really care about others' (not even my friends') personal animosities: work it out; don't drag me into it.)

This criticism is counterproductive because if the goal is to stop the elite from holding the masses in contempt, the charge that they think they're better than us just makes them feel more contemptuous. If the goal is anti-elitism, I think we have to be careful to criticize elites in such a way that their collapse helps the cause of true democracy and anti-elitism. If we criticize an elite the wrong way, they just collapse on the masses, paving the way for a new, worse, elite.

Marx, for example, is careful to avoid personal criticism of the bourgeoisie.
But [in Capital] individuals are dealt with only in so far as they are the personifications of economic categories, embodiments of particular class relations and class-interests. My standpoint, from which the evolution of the economic formation of society is viewed as a process of natural history, can less than any other make the individual responsible for relations whose creature he socially remains, however much he may subjectively raise himself above them.*
Marx has a reason for this view: he wants to avoid the claim (made, I think, by many utopian socialists) is that society is bad simply because bad people happen to be in control; if we could put good people in positions of control, everything would be fine. Marx argues instead that the people don't drive the system; the system drives the people. Capitalists are "bad" because the system forces them to be bad. (More precisely, I think capitalism mostly selects for bad people to acquire power.) Madison opined,
If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.
The problem is not with the people, it is with the system. I think both Marx and Madison would agree at least that we must turn our attention to the structures and institutions of society, not to the personal failings of the people in those institutions, and certainly not to the failings that the system imposes on them.

Hence my continuing discussion of the role of the PMC in the capitalist system and the history of the struggle between the PMC and the capitalist class. The capitalist class has undertaken a project of delegitimizing the PMC. To simply concur with their delegitimation is to mistake the enemy of my enemy as my friend. To just delegitimize the PMC without also delegitimize capitalist class (more than just an aside that the capitalists are assholes too) is to simply remove an obstacle to the capitalists' project to gain absolute power. The success of this project is probably guaranteed (if it has not actually succeeded), and that capitalists' absolute power will be their undoing, but those are not good reasons to endorse or assist their project.

I think good socialists should want for the capitalist system to fail gracefully into socialism. I don't think that will actually happen: I think the path is laissez faire capitalism to some sort of fascist-like authoritarianism to socialism (always under the threat of annihilation), but how it will or might happen is a secondary concern. The primary concern should be, I think, to position socialism to pick up the pieces as soon as possible, which requires gaining ideological trust. Even if the capitalist system really does fail catastrophically, being seen to endorse, cooperate, or even just unwittingly assist with catastrophe does not inspire trust.

I too want to delegitimize the PMC, but I want them to fall on the capitalists, not on the masses. To simply say that they are arrogant know-it-alls is to implicitly endorse the capitalist ideology that capitalists earn their right to rule by their productive success and that the PMC, with their impossible ideas, highfalutin jargon, and effeminate* morality, acts as an obstacle to their deserved power. Instead, I damn the PMC not for opposing capitalism but for failing to oppose capitalism more directly, even as the capitalist class plots the extinction of the PMC. They failed to protect the masses, but worse yet, they failed to protect themselves. The workers cannot depend on the PMC in their struggle against capitalism; they must take up the struggle themselves.

*I am using "effeminate" because that's clearly the thrust of the capitalist class's criticism of anti-racism, feminism, and equality of orientation. Capitalists are very patriarchal.

8 comments:

  1. Larry, thank you for your kind words toward the beginning of your post here. I did, in fact, criticize the capitalists in the string of comments that I think you are referring to. I did, admittedly, criticize the PMC with more vigor but I think I have a good reason for that.

    My theory as a whole is that some time in the early 20th century, control over information and its dissemination actually "passed up" control over capital in being the determinant of who holds the power. Improvements in print press technology combined with the invention/improvements of radio and eventually even early forms of television in the late 1800s & early 1900s enabled for the first time in history the creation of a true mass-media and other organs of true mass-dissemination of information (and misinformation).

    I think that this is what actually led to the PMC wresting of power from the capitalists in the early 20th century. The PMC were always the traditional "dealers" in media, journalism, etc., so the elite of the PMC were uniquely seated to benefit from this vast technological shift.

    Also I believe that the 1917 Russian Revolution was in fact a seizure of power by the PMC, not the working class. As proof I supply the fact that the PMC elite held the power in Russia after the dust settled. I believe that the Russian Revolution was only one example in only one country of this turnover of power to the PMC in most major countries during the first half of the 20th century. Different turnovers in different countries, of course, looked different. The 1933 turnover in the USA, for instance, was a lot more mild.

    Also I believe that in recent years, what we are actually seeing is a fusion of the capitalist class and the elite of the PMC, not a true replacement of the PMC in power. This fusion/transformation is not "snap-of-the-fingers", but is still going on. Out of the 2017 Forbes top 10 billionaire list, at least 3 fall into this category: 2 out of the 10 are media tycoons (Mark Zuckerberg and Michael Bloomberg) and a third is a mobile telecommunications magnate (Carlos Slim). Mark Zuckerberg is on track to become the richest man in the world, if trends continue.

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    1. Also I believe that the 1917 Russian Revolution was in fact a seizure of power by the PMC, not the working class.

      Absolutely.

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  2. My theory as a whole is that some time in the early 20th century, control over information and its dissemination actually "passed up" control over capital in being the determinant of who holds the power.

    Indeed. But capitalism, properly understood, is defined by its social relations, not (necessarily) defined by what those relations manage.

    I think it's more fruitful to argue that information was transformed from an instrument of reproduction to a commodity (in the Marxian sense); therefore, the owners of information have become capitalists.

    Information as a tool of reproduction is very different from information as a commodity.

    I will have to think more about it.

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  3. Larry, I re-read my comments you originally referred to, this post, and the replies, and I still think the main thrust of my point is being missed.

    I'm looking specifically at the mentality of the PMC elite. I'm going to requote the main thrust of my point from my original comments:

    "It's a complicated situation. These are the meritocratic elite. They're the ones who have high SAT and GRE scores. They're the ones with the Oxbridge and Ivy League degrees. They're the ones with the major awards such as Pulitzer prizes. They're the ones who are sick and tired of playing second fiddle to people like the Walmart heirs, whom they see as stupid worthless "sons of the rich". They see people like the Walmart heirs "cutting up the pie and handing out slices" (to use your words), and they (the PMC elite) think it ought to be THEM who are the ones cutting up the pie and handing out the slices. After all, the way they see it they're the ones with the mega degrees, awards, and credentials.

    Thus the often justified resentment of the PMC elite boils into megalomania, and that's when they become "in the wrong". "


    In one of your other posts, you said "socialists are almost all technocratic class traitors". You didn't say "over half" or even "mostly". You said "almost all". To put it bluntly, that is the sort of thing that has, for many years, caused me to cynically ask "Cui bono?" viz-a-viz the socialist movement.

    To be fair, your full quote was "Finally, I claim we socialists must actually organize workers. And we should organize the workers not to support us — we socialists are, after all, almost all technocratic class traitors — but to take power for themselves."

    The problem is I'm not convinced that that has ever happened anywhere. I am not, of course, faulting you personally for that, but still...

    In Russia, the PMC Marxists who took power in 1917 promised the workers an eventual "melting away" of not only social class, but also all state relations leading to an eventual stateless society. Correct me if I'm wrong, but there was no indication that the Russian ruling PMC was ever going to allow this to happen viz-a-viz their own class and the Soviet state bureaucratic apparatus whose power they wielded, even had the USSR survived. I'm just old enough to remember the tail end of the USSR. It was clear to all, inside and outside of the USSR, that the Soviet bureaucracy acted in a very self-serving manner and had no intention of ever "melting away".

    In the end, I find myself extremely skeptical of the socialist movement itself, even as I find myself agreeing with many of the movement's criticisms of capitalism, even as I find myself agreeing with many of the movement's proposed reforms, even as I find myself agreeing with some of the really radical stuff that even many communists are not “sold” on, such as an option for children who are old enough to decide, I’m thinking age 10 if not even younger, to be given the option be raised in a crèche-like environment rather than in a family. (En passant, I think this would, for one thing, do a great deal toward lessening the incidence of child abuse, for the same reason that the women shelter movement did a great deal toward lessening the incidence of wife abuse.)

    In the end I find myself disagreeing with you on a fundamental premise. You seem to (correct me if I'm wrong) reject the critique of individuals and see this as a problem with systems. As my life has gone on and I've been able to observe more and more about human beings, I find it harder and harder to see merit in that premise. I guess I'm coming out and saying that I really do see this as a problem with certain individuals.

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  4. I understand where you're coming from, Dustin. Some people are assholes; and assholiness seems positively correlated with political power. But that's been true since we started keeping records.

    However, we need a systemic cure for individual assholes, i.e. we need systems that keep assholes from power, and limit the damage they do when they gain some power. What other choice is there?

    BTW, one of my PoliSci profs is writing a book advocating not just a creche option, but full voting rights for children, a position I agree with. I'll send you a link when (and if) it's out.

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  5. These are the meritocratic elite. They're the ones who have high SAT and GRE scores. They're the ones with the Oxbridge and Ivy League degrees. They're the ones with the major awards such as Pulitzer prizes. They're the ones who are sick and tired of playing second fiddle to people like the Walmart heirs, whom they see as stupid worthless "sons of the rich". They see people like the Walmart heirs "cutting up the pie and handing out slices" (to use your words), and they (the PMC elite) think it ought to be THEM who are the ones cutting up the pie and handing out the slices. After all, the way they see it they're the ones with the mega degrees, awards, and credentials.

    This is completely correct. What of it? They are in fact objectively better than the capitalist class at cutting up the pie and handing out the slices.

    Remember, this analysis is not aimed at socialists, it's aimed at the Democratic party rank and file. You put your trust in the hands of the meritocrats, and even though they are objectively better than the capitalists at running society, they still lost to the capitalists, because they are cowards and they do not understand politics.

    My message to the rank and file, to labor, to minorities, to women outside the meritocratic elite is that these motherfuckers are not going to help you beyond mere tokenism.

    My message to the meritocratic elite is just this: fuck you guys. You made promises and you had neither the will nor courage to keep them; I don't know that you even had any intention of keeping them. If you are part of the meritocratic elite, stop trying to regain power: you don't know how to use it. Defect to the socialists.

    I find myself extremely skeptical of the socialist movement itself.

    As well you should be. But I charge you to be a skeptic, not a cynic. If you agree with the positions, wade in and try to be helpful somewhere.

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  6. Larry, slightly (although not entirely) off topic:

    Today I saw yet another youtube video which shows almost definitively that Disney's The Lion King was stolen from a small animator named Osamu Tezuka (from his mid-60s series "Kimba, the White Lion").

    Even many of the individual scenes are blatantly plaigarized from Tezuka's work (see 3:09-3:35 in the video I linked).

    Disney conveniently waited until 1989, the year Tezuka died, to begin stea.. I mean *cough* "working on", the Lion King.

    Megacorporations, they just steal, steal, steal. Their opulent wealth is based on stealing.

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    1. Oh yeah. Even Cracked is on that case.

      Delete

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