Saturday, November 25, 2017

Classes as social relations

A class in the Marxian sense consists of people who are embedded in certain kinds of social relations. Briefly, capitalists are those who engage in M-C-M* economic relationships, turning money into commodities into more money; Marx holds that the M*, more money after commodity relations, consists of the surplus value of labor expropriated from the workers. Workers engage in C-M-C economic relationships. They sell a commodity (their labor power) to the capitalists, receive money, which they then use to buy the stuff they need to live.

But there are other social relations necessary to maintain a society. These relations are not productive, they are reproductive. (There are also parasitic social relations, which are neither productive nor reproductive.) The modern (19th and early 20th century) academic system was not productive. Knowledge and culture are not something produced in the Marxian sense because knowledge and culture are not consumed in the sense that an ordinary television show is consumed, i.e. used up. People get tired of even classics like M*A*S*H or a magazine article about bees (so this is ordinary production), but people will never get tired of the Iliad nor the Theory of General Relativity. More importantly, reproduction needs to happen regardless of whether it can be made even temporarily profitable.

Hence I define the professional-managerial class not in terms of the tools it uses, but in terms of their social relations of reproduction.

Hence I view the class analysis of the 20th century broadly thus: during the Great Depression, the PMC as a reproductive class seizes state power in 1933. Any economic ruling class must have a countervailing reproductive class to both legitimize the authority of the ruling class and to prevent the ruling class from destroying society. Such was the role of the Church in the Middle Ages. (Both Augustine and Aquinas, for example, have much to say about secular state legitimacy.)

The capitalist class, as soon the immediate crisis has stabilized, began its project to retake state power. The capitalist class directly undermined the legitimacy of the PMC as elitist*, effeminate**, and race traitors. They co-opt the institutions (academic science and humanities, journalism, "high" culture, primary and secondary education) the PMC used to reproduce capitalist society, turning them into productive rather than reproductive institutions. They co-opted the leaders of the PMC, turning them directly into capitalists or ensuring they slavishly submitted to the capitalist class (e.g. most academic economists), abandoning the second half of their role as critics and moderators

*Never mind that the capitalist class is far more elitist than the PMC ever was or could be.
**<sarcasm> Women can't rule,
n'est ce pas?, except in the exceptional case where they almost perfectly imitate men. </sarcasm>

In 1980, the capitalist class retook state power, but they were not content. Unlike the PMC, the capitalists understood that the capitalists and the PMC were enemies, and reading Machiavelli, they knew that one's enemies must be utterly destroyed. So the capitalists have continued to undermine the PMC; they will not stop until there is no such thing as a professional-managerial class as a class, only individual professionals and managers directly subordinate to individual capitalists and completely subservient to the capitalist class.

One of my main themes has been criticism of the Democratic party. I see the Democratic party not as the party of those who control information, but as the party that still tries to restore the PMC to state power. Or, more precisely, Democratic voters — aside from middle-class white women who (justly) want to preserve their access to legal abortion and minorities who (justly) fear that the Republican party will enslave or just murder them all — are those who want to return to the days when the PMC as a class held and exercised state power. I believe these voters are fundamentally mistaken. The PMC cannot regain state power; the best they can do is operate a fighting retreat, slowing the capitalists' destruction of society.

Dustin makes an important point in his comment:
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.

I agree completely that information has become the critical basis of power. However, the way that those who control information have used it fundamentally shifted only in the early 21st century, decades after the capitalists regained state power. The key is to make all information Marxian commodities, and place all of information production under capitalist commodity relations (M-C-M*), with knowledge producers as workers, not a separate reproductive class.

I really want to stress that what capitalists own (factories, money and financial flows, information) is less important than how they own it, i.e. the social relations.

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.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Personal Statements

Harry Brighouse gives good advice on writing personal statements for graduate school applications. In short, he observes that personal statements are rarely if ever decisive for acceptance. So don't spend too much time on it, it's all right to be ordinary, and just answer the questions.

In philosophy the main purpose of the personal statement is to convey that you know what you are doing, that you are genuinely interested in the program you’re applying to, and that you are not a complete flake.