- Capitalism and Alternatives -

Response to bill re: Calhoun

Posted by: Samuel Day Fassbinder ( Citizens for Mustard Greens, USA ) on November 26, 1999 at 00:37:54:

SDF: This is a preliminary response to bill's post here about Craig Calhoun/ Garrett Hardin.

: : SDF: Let me be more clear about this, and perhaps hedge on it and rewrite it a bit. It is clear that capitalism will provide the means of its own undoing -- this will occur, however, not through any inherent tendency of capitalism to create socialists as proclaimed by cheerleaders of the "coming revolution" (which I hoped unsuccessfully to discuss HERE), but rather through the tragedy of the commons, that capitalist competition practically requires social destruction of the resource base, toward the chronic creation of crises of overproduction, in the name of capitalist competition.

: I meant to reply to your previous postings of Craig Calhoun's analysis. It is indeed provocative. I don't know enough about Marxian theory to understand:

: 1. How class consciousness evolves.

SDF: This is the essence of the problem, and it's equivalent to what sociologists call "socialization". Socialization, of course, is the sum of the processes whereby the youth of the world are brought into participation within its social structures. It's what I thought I would be studying when I became a doctoral student in Communication. Unfortunately, departments of Communication concentrate upon the effects of mass media upon socialization, to the exclusion of everything else. However, there have been some nice end-products of communicative research on life, though I hate the typical departmental obsession with publication of journal articles. One book-length example is Leiss, Kline, and Jhally's Social Communication in Advertising. Anything by Dallas Smythe is worth reading in this regard, tho' I have no clue what books he's put out.

Departments of Education are interested in the way school life impinges upon socialization (and here, for starters, I can recommend Kevin Willis' Learning to Labour and Robert Everhart's Reading, Writing, and Resistance) to the exclusion of the pedagogic influence of "outside influences," though Henry Giroux's Fugitive Cultures makes a serious effort to remedy that problem. My concern with this matter, the matter of how communication results in socialization, was so extreme that it appears that I wrote a dissertation marginalizing my own position within "the field."

At any rate, departmental specialization has hindered the overall study of the processes of socialization within advanced industrial society from the perspective of historical materialism.

: 2. How it becomes transformed from a collection of individuals wanting a larger slice of fetish pie to a collective redetermination of pie values - a necessity for a socialist consciousnrss.

SDF: Precisely. The orientation of socialists must go beyond the envy of the owning classes to a desire to end the conditions of ownership. In this regard, certain things have happened to hinder the popular integration into a movement to forward the "collective redetermination of pie values". Various authors have named it differently: the ideological transformation of the consciousness of the working classes (and here I would recommend reading Gyorgy Lukacs' History and Class Consciousness or Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment), or by the transformation of the social basis for revolutionary mobilization (Craig Calhoun's The Question of Class Struggle, of course), or by the creation of sectarian Marxism and the decline of the socialist movement into a handful of splinter parties (Part Two of Julius Braunthal's History of the International depicts this), the progress of socialist consciousness has been blocked in the "advanced nations" of the West. What to do? I favor the creation of broad-based movements around real-life crises where the daily operation of global capitalism threatens itself -- me, I'm a card-carrying Green.

: (I do feel that alienation plays a role - but it must be perceived as alienation - in the sense that one does not "feel" poor or exploited unless or until he/she becomes conscious of alternatives)

SDF: Alienation is when you sell your labor-time to someone else, of course, and consciousness of the alternative means consciousness of the alternatives to working for your employer. I think we're talking not merely about alienation but about conscientization -- see these links about Paulo Freire.

: Is there a good book on the psycho/social conditions attending the rise of historical mass movements?

SDF: E. P. Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class, of course, tho' I'd also like to recommend Maria Mies' Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale. And I thought that the above topic was what Herbert Marcuse's stuff was all about. I respect what Marcuse was as a revolutionary voice, though his writing is way too full of Freud for my tastes.

: I have a bit of a problem with Garrett Hardin. It is his socio-biology (which might be a surprise - coming fom me). It's a little...well too vulgarly Darwinian.

SDF: Hardin had no clue that the "tragedy of the commons," which he so accurately depicted, was an epiphenomenon of capitalist (and pre-capitalist) business competition. People exploit and pollute the commons to depletion when production is socialized for the sake of capitalist competition, not because it's "natural" for them to do so. The tragedy of the commons is the flip side of the crisis of overproduction. As a business owner, I would "naturally" destroy the common resource base as part of the activity of preserving my market share against inroads by other entrepreneurs who are going to be doing the same things to the commons as I plan to do. The "tragedy of the commons" problem is similar to the problem in game theory of "prisoner's dilemma".

: ps.

: I remember your posting about the fate of Easter Island - the presumed loss of timber to religious practice. In this case the destruction of their world would not have been due to individual self-interest - but to collective stupidity.

SDF: Ah, but the collective is comprised of individuals and the individuals comprise a collective!

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