- Capitalism and Alternatives -

Back in the real world

Posted by: Darcy Carter ( UK ) on January 17, 19100 at 15:27:27:

In Reply to: More 'fascist' utterances from Adam Smith posted by Stoller on December 19, 1999 at 15:01:38:

: On this note, let us return to Darcy Carter's idiotic post.

"Idiotic" am I? Given that, I am surprised and flaterred that you deemed it worth your time to reply to my ramblings. Your comment on my alledged lack of intelligence also makes interesting reading alongside your condemnation of elitism. If I am not as intelligent as you, or at least not as well-versed in a particular area, it is by your own standards not my fault (suggesting an inherent flaw is, of course, "elitist") but that of society. I am surely to be pitied, not insulted.

: :: Darcy says: '[I]t is better to serve fries than to work in a coal mine for 20 hours a day (just about), so Adam Smith's vision in this respect is becoming increasingly out of date.'

: Whether mining coal or making french fries has NOTHING to do with Smith's observation.

: The point he was making was that to limit a person to ONE OR TWO 'very simple operations' was to ROB THEM of their human sentience.

: And that observation is MORE PERTINENT in today's 'service economy' than EVER. With that cleared up...

How has that been "cleared up"? By your quotation of a great thinker, and bald assertion that it is more relevant than ever? Looking at the actual evidence, it seems clear that the kind of manual jobs that Smith was referring to simply no longer exist to any great extent in a the developed world. Even in McDonalds (a less than thrilling job admittedly - I lasted 2 days)one is not reduced to "one or two very simple operations." You can serve customers, fry burgers, clean, pack fries etc. That is more than 1 or 2. I also think that the social interaction, on however base a level, that is involved in the service industry is something that Smith could not have considered when he was talking about the stultifying affects of labour. Furthermore, although these sorts of jobs are the worst that current western society has to offer and the vast majority of people do something more interesting.

It is also worth noting the changes in society and technology that have made Smith's arguments increasingly obsolete. Everyone today has cultural stimulus that Smith could not have imagined. Mass media, to which everyone has access, and the increase in leisure time, mean that it is absurd to talk about peole becoming mentaly stagnant just becuase they have comparatively dull jobs. Even the poorest workers can generally now go on a foreign holiday several time in their life. One could say that a couple of weeks in Spain is no replacement for the grind of daily drudgery, but the menial worker in Smith's time would certainly never have had access to the stimulus of visiting a foreign country. There is also universal education at a level Smith would probably have considered possible only in a Eutopia.

This is all a far cry from the poor dolt who spent 14 hours a day putting tops on bottles, couldn't read, never left his village of birth in his short and hard life and had no leisure time or external stimulus other than being preached at (probably in Latin) for 2 hours each Sunday.

If you do not accept this as valid, then Smith was obviously wrong, not just out-of-date. The average bar person or fast food worker is not a socially incapable moron. They have feelings, ideas, opinions and complex social relationaships in the same way as everyone else. They just happen to have boring jobs. Go and speak to a McDonalds worker - you might be surprised to find a human being very much like yourself, in spite of the education that allows you to insult those with differing views by the use of words like "sagacious". Indeed, I am sure that such workers would be fascinated to learn that, according to one of the greatest thinkers of all time, they had no "human sentience" but were merely automatons or zombies.

: , let us consider another of Darby's less-than-sagacious observations: 'As for job sharing, the sad truth is that most people are incapable of doing jobs that would be described as skilled or professional.'

: Such an elitist view (smelling strongly of biological determinism) Smith explicitly REFUTES:


: The difference of natural talents in different men is, in reality, much less than we are aware of; and the very different genius which appears to distinguish men of different professions, when grown up to maturity, is not upon many occasions so much the cause as the effect of the division of labor.

: The difference between most dissimilar characters, between a philosopher and a common street porter, for example, seems to arise not so much from nature as from habit, custom, and education. When they came into the world, and for the first six or eight years of their existence, they were perhaps very much alike, and neither their parents nor play-fellows could perceive any remarkable difference.

: About that age, or soon after, they come to employed in very different occupations. The difference of talents comes then to be taken notice of, and widens by degrees, till at last the vanity of the philosopher is willing to acknowledge scarce any resemblance.(2)

As far as I remember, he wasn't a biologist, and knowledge of genetcis would seem to render any contemporary comment on the nature / nurture debate obsolete in any event. I would suggest that it is now relatively uncontroversial that both one's environment and genetic inheritance will affect you. You may not be "determined" by your biology, but it will certainly affect you and, in some cases, put a cap on your abilities in certain areas. A contrary view would suggest that I could have dicovered relativity, painted the Mona Lisa or broke the 100m world record - it was merely timing and environment that prevented my great achievements. This goes against all common sense and self-knowledge.

It is obviously difficult for a socialist to accept that, just as I am naturally brown eyed, there will be different genes affecting my personality and abilities in all sorts of areas. For example, I would have loved to have been a professional footballer, but discovered from an early age that my total lack of natural ability, despite constant practise, made this unrealistic. How is this possible, if we are all inherently the same?

Your nurturism theories also fail to explain why some people who have similar (ideed, to the degree possible, identical) childhoods, become such radically different adults.

Moreover, I tihnk a more careful reading of Smith's words on this issue will reveal that he did not say nurture was all that mattered, but that one's environment was much more important than many (at that time) thought. There is no doubt that environment is crucial in a person's development, but Smith's condemantion of inheritance not only came at a time when genetics were unknown, but in a society where the social order depended on people being fixed in a particular strata of society for their entire lives. This made it important for the ruling class to imagine that the "lower orders" were fit for little else. It is this rigid social banding, jutified by discrimination against the working class on the basis that their common humanity was inherently less valuable than that of the middle and upper classes, that Smith would seem to be condeming. It has little relevance in a society of fluid class structute and univeral state education.

One might even say that he was guily of such class prejudice himself (which you, in turn, are aping) by stating that the working class are stupid and incapable of normal human emotion. This was a common theory amongst the intelligentsia of the time, salving any consciences troubled by the cruelties that the working man had to endure. It also, when applied in a more focused way to black people, allowed perfectly normal men and women to condone the evils of slavery.

: Or, as I put it (again and again): Until we educate EVERYONE, we'll NEVER KNOW who is capable of WHAT.

Everyone is educated;, in fact it's compulsory (where have you been since the 1900's?) Moreover, only a small fraction of children (in the UK at lease) are educated privately, thereofore most people receive broadly similar educations. Further education is also available to everyone (an opportunity 1 in 3 people in this country now take up)

Back in the real world, a person from a rich, educated family is of course more likely to succeed (by my capitalsit standards) than a perosn from a violent and loveless background. However, some people are a lot better than some things than others. This becomes evident during the universal education that seems to have escaped your notice. This is common sense, just as it is evident that some people are natuarally more athletic than others.

Bandying about provocative words like "elitism" doesn't make this any less true, and it doesn't make everyone equal, either. Your desire for political correctness is, I would suggest, distorting your ability to reason logically.

Follow Ups:


The Debating Room Post a Followup