- Capitalism and Alternatives -

Waterlogged dead hands.

Posted by: MDG on December 15, 1999 at 16:47:33:

In Reply to: Your points posted by Barry Stoller on December 15, 1999 at 00:01:35:

: Stoller:
: A rational and egalitarian socialist society would implement the same (effective) schedules of reinforcement in order to bring out the best in everyone.

: : I'm a little leery of some egghead scientists brewing up a behaviorologist master plan to get me to perform a task like a rat in a maze.

: Well, I'm glad someone noticed the behaviorological part of my post---even if it was just to trot out the tired old 'rat in a maze' cliché again.

Go ahead, criticize my choice of analogies, but beware the door you open.

: Skinner did not invent schedules of reinforcement, he only discovered them. Using your less than neutral terminology, all people (even libertarians!) are ALREADY 'rats in a maze.' Schedules occur equally in nature and long-established human interactions. This debate board subjects us to schedules of reinforcement, a coin toss subjects us to schedules of reinforcement, making love with a spouse subjects us to schedules of reinforcement, all forms of payment subject us to schedules of reinforcement. Shall we (in the name of proving our autonomy, perhaps) REJECT this debate board, coin tosses, making love with our spouses AND getting paid for our work? Etc., etc.

I agree that there are naturally occurring schedules of reinforcement, and residual ones stemming from human activity. These at least occur without design. I'm more concerned about people who intentionally set out to design schedules of reinforcement, be it on behalf of capitalism, which they do now, or in a future socialist state. Concern does not equal opposition, mind you, but neither am I ready to abandon my suspicions.

: Just because we cannot see schedules of reinforcement does not mean they do not affect our behavior. It would behoove us to understand them and then to apply them in such ways to promote more productivity and contentment than at present. Especially in a socialist world where we want to rid ourselves of all the old, coercive (read: hierarchal) forms of 'incentive' AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE.


: We mainly are in agreement on the 'skilled work is its own reward' idea.

: Stoller:
: The incentive to perform skilled work, contrary to procapitalist ideology, is largely self-perpetuating. For example: faced with a choice of digging ditches for $5 an hour and supervising others digging ditches for $5 an hour, most people would eagerly choose the latter. Indeed, most people readily assent that skilled work is far more satisfying to do than unskilled.

: : When you say "satisfying," do you mean personally rewarding, or not as hard? If incomes were the same, I'd rather dig ditches than balance ledgers.

: Perhaps it was a poor comparison to call supervising ditch digging a skilled task. Balancing ledgers would also largely be unskilled work as well. Let's call the distinction digging ditches and some other task that required a college education. Then the choice shall be fairly obvious.

To clarify my point: if the financial rewards were the same, I'd rather dig ditches than perform a dull mental task which requires an advanced degree to carry out; at least with the former, you get fresh air and exercise, and a chance to daydream. I suspect there are plenty of others like me. Maybe when I'm older and my back gives out, I'll change my mind.

: Stoller:
: One deterrent against shirking one's quota of unskilled work in socialist society will simply be peer pressure. Example: the less I do today (on laundry duty, perhaps), the more awaits you tomorrow---I expect you'll have an opinion on this matter.

: : Peer pressure, i.e., shame, is effective in inverse proportion to the size of the community one is in. In a small town, where everyone knows your name, the nasty stares you'll get are incentive to do the laundry, but in New York City, you can avoid detection and be a loafer.

: Good point. In my eyes, that argues for the intervention of, say, worker's councils ('the state').

Or to put it bluntly, the police. That's not a bad thing, by the way. Law enforcement is law enforcement.

: Stoller: When everyone decides WHAT sort of commodities and services are desired (instead of having the 'profit motive' of a minority decide such matters), many negative qualities regarding (unskilled) work will be effaced. Example: does the majority of people desire owning individual automobiles enough to spend a constituent amount of their own time working in a car factory to make cars available for everyone? If so, the work performed will be tangible goods that society clearly wants.

: : What about the desires of the minority? I'm a scuba diver. The gear I really want costs far more than I can afford. But how many other people dive? Will there be enough people working in the diving gear factory to make it for ourselves?

: Interesting. Earlier in your post, you impugned materialism, now you admit to having an expensive hobby.

So now you're my shrink? I thought we were analyzing socialism. Since you bring it up: I do reject materialist, i.e., a preoccupation with material things rather than intellectual or spiritual matters. This does not mean I reject earthly pleasures. Correct me if I'm wrong, but your vision of socialism does not include everyone wearing matching coveralls living in bare cells like monks, does it? And on a further personal note, diving to me is a deeply spiritual activity, especially at night, when one is enveloped by the warm ocean, drifting past murky coral formations, and occasionally glimpsing the glow of a phosphorescent critter. You ought to try it sometime, Barry -- it's awe inspiring.

: A truly democratic (socialist) society will decide collectively what its labor priorities are. Unlike THIS (capitalist) societies where immiserated proletarians crank out vast piles of luxuries they will never enjoy for the 'liberty-loving' bourgeoisie and their boot-licking labor aristocrats to enjoy.

Well put. On the other hand, if you took the profit margin off the price of luxury items, they'd be far more affordable; that, plus raising wages, would make them more universally available.

: If enough people want something (in a collective economy), then the level of productivity will exist to met those demands; if there are not enough people, then the level of productivity will be too low to sustain the demand.

: Consider how the organic composition of capital ('capital' being investment in a socialist economy) determines productivity. If a 1000 people want to spend their free time making scuba gear, great (that's unalienated labor)---but they will also have to spend some of their free time getting the raw materials and making the machines that make the scuba gear. Since the abolition of alienated labor, there will no longer be wage-slaves who 'just happen' to do these tasks in the first place.

: So, to answer your question directly (and I believe in being direct, as you no doubt noticed), a lot of luxuries would probably get nixed in a collective economy. On the other hand, you wouldn't be compelled to print the collected works of Lenin for me if the MAJORITY of NONALIENATED workers said to hell with that!

I'll give up diving when you pry the regulator from my waterlogged dead hands.

: Stoller:
: Force is also an option in the case of any individual's arrant refusal to perform an unskilled work quota.

: : There's got to be a better way than force. With enough use of force, you'll breed an entirely new army of revolutionaries crying for an overthrow of the oppressive system.

: I appreciate your repudiation of force, but I respectfully submit Frenchy, Stuart, Doc, etc. for your consideration. These dudes would train armies to annihilate even your utopian idea of socialism. THERE WILL ALWAYS BE A MINORITY OF BLOODSUCKING CAPITALISTS TO DEAL WITH. Let's get over it and plan to minimize the force necessary. Unless YOU'D throw over socialism to satisfy a minority of cancer cells. Then you must admit that socialism will NEVER occur. And I part company with you on that point!

Two points: you are a socialist whose preferred economic system has been thwarted by democratic rule (in theory -- I know that far more insidious forces were involved). There are many people who do not get what they want in a democracy, yet accept that as the price they pay for living in a stable, democratic society. Those who don't end up in jail. Who's to say that if we voted in socialism, the Frenchy Gort Cruels wouldn't weigh their options and decide to accept it, perhaps with the goal of changing things over time via democratic means? If they absolutely did not wish to comply, they'd go to jail like everyone else who refuses to play by the rules (and gets caught).

Second point: consider not referring to the opponents of socialism as "cancer cells." That's a little too close to calling them vermin, and we all know about the little greasy haired fuck who rode to power and infamy on the use of such rhetoric.

- MDG (the "M" may stand for Menshevik -- too early to tell, though).

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