- Capitalism and Alternatives -

Self-interest just won't cut it

Posted by: Nikhil Jaikumar ( DSA, MA, USA ) on October 11, 1999 at 15:02:43:

In Reply to: Sorry I asked! posted by Barry Stoller on October 10, 1999 at 17:09:08:

: : Small peasants, individual tradesmen who don't employ others, artists, intellectuals, scientific research labs, hermits, and others who either 1) depend on some small amount of individually owned property to make their living, since state ownership of what they do would probably not allow them the needed flexibility, or 2) those rugged individualists who can carry on their living in a quiet corner somewhere without introducing exploitation into the society.

: I knew it! The petty proprietor gets the tiny slice!

: The petty proprietor, my friend, is an atavus. The popular ideological forms of the petty proprietor---the artist, the intellectual, the scientist, 'rugged individualists' all---are today largely mythical characters invoked by the ruling class (the bourgeois who, ironically enough, actually wiped them out)

While what you say may be partially true in America, small independent [eassants are still the vast majority of the population in countries where socialism is being or has been implmented. socialism, therefore, must be able to take individual peasants and their livelihoods into account.

: to: 1) garner support for the social division of labor and its concomitant hierarchy; 2) inculcate among the unpropertied the belief that social ascension, although essentially a lottery, is possible; 3) disprove the labor theory of value (that modes of production are actually social relations); and 4) perpetuate the 'great man of history' belief in individual autonomy (which conveniently explains away all instances of inability to ascend in class).

That's all very well, but I still don't agree. Fundamentally, a science lab is (or should be) independent. They need money from somewhere (the state would be a good source), but the decsiion about what equipment to buy, what experiments to run, how to interpret the results, what schedule to work on, etc.. must be theirs. History shows us what happens to scientists when they become chained to either private corporations (America) or the central governmnet (China, russia, etc. Now, if the lab is to function independently in thsi ammnner, they must own their own equipment so that they can choose what to do with it. I suppose that in theory the state could agree to buy ANY equipment that the scientist needs, and then technically own it while givinthe scientist total control over it- a sport of lease. But why? What's the point? Somewhat unnecessary, isn't it?
Artists, similarly., must have the freedom to pursue their own live;lihood in the wy they see fit, therefore they need some amount of money, resources, etc. of their own. And lastly, if a man wants to grow vegetables in hsi own backyard, without sponging off teh labor of others, I don't really have a problem with tha either.

: Got it?

: : The state is democratically elected by us.

: Who is 'us'? The worker who gets a choice of Old Coke or New Coke---or the capitalist who gets a cut of the Coke profits?

Well, everyone. If you make elections fair enough, it's inevitable that the workers' party should win-= they are in the majority, after all. we can weaken the power of teh capitalists by passing liberal legislation, and eventually they may slip out of pwoer.

: Other points:

: : Say what you will, I believe that altruism and self-sacrifice, on the part of those who have wealth and power, is a necessary prerequisite to ever building a socialist society.

: First of all, (Marxist) socialism has nothing whatsoever to do with altruism and self sacrifice. Marxism is about making sure that those who do the work get the majority of what they produce. It's all about self-interest!

yes, but Communsim is more than Marxism. To change over to a socialist society is going to require that the upper class and a large segment fo teh middle class give up their wealth, and to do that you need to inculcate in them an etic of self-sacrifice.

: Secondly, those today 'who have wealth and power' will only support whatever insures that they keep what they have.

Unless they are sufficiently indoctrinated with the ethic of self-scarficie. Not everyone always acts out of self-interest; peopel act oiut of moral principle too.

:Hence the need for revolution. Hence the need to install equality of participation (job rotation) after the revolution.

I'm all for job rotation- I find it more than slightly demeaning to have people cleaning bathrooms aa a full-time job and getting paid moderately for it. That job sucks, regardelss of how much you get paid, and it's demeaning to amke anyone do that day in and day out- let everyone be liable.)

But I still don't buy your theory about self-interest. Actually, Red Deathy used to say teh same thing.

: : By the way, living in a democracy does not mean unlimited freedom.

: I couldn't agree more. Freedom is always determined by the values of the ruling class. The question is: freedom to or freedom from? Or more to the point: freedom for which class?

No. Everyone must have the smae freedoms. That is what huamn rights mean. human rights are not class-based, they are universal. It is necessray to believe in human rights in order to conclude that capitalists exploiting thir workers is wrong. After all, if self-interest is the only motivator of humans, then what makes capitalists morally inferior when they act selfishly towards their workers?

: : Belief in God is like living with a parent. I for one am glad to have an authority ruling over me, looking out for me, protecting me, etc. I do not have the pride in myself to assume that I alone can be my own master.

: God, as I see it, is the ultimate 'great man of history.' God is the apotheosis of the petty proprietor, that 'rugged individualist' who needs no one other than himself.

We are talking metaphysics, not psycgoanalysis here. I'm sorry, but people don't blelieve in Go because He symbolizes the rugged individualism.They believe in God because they have 1) felt the presence of God, 2) concluded that God must exist for the universe to have meaning, 3) crave the protection and love of God, or some similar reason. Psychoanalyzing billions of peopel that you don't know strikes me a s a little bit condescendoing, ya know?

Plus he gets to call all the shots for everyone else! Sorry, but the Industrial Revolution put this dude out of business. The problem before us now, as I see it, is: how do we (the workers) get the capitalists off our back after the capitalists were nice enough, many hundreds of years ago, to get the monarchy off of ours and theirs?

: I suspect you couldn't agree less. To suggest to someone who believes in God that the 'rugged individualist' no longer exists would entail a bit of a stretch...

Follow Ups:

The Debating Room Post a Followup