Monday , March 4 2024
Can there be such a thing as a comprehensive revolutionary theory, a universal theory of revolutions that would be good for all times and for all seasons?

The Anarchist’s Dilemma, an Interlude: One Size Doesn’t Fit All!

Can there be such a thing as a comprehensive revolutionary theory, a universal theory of revolutions that would be good for all times and for all seasons?  Or, alternatively, have we reached a theoretical impasse of sorts, a glass ceiling in a manner of speaking, a kind of situation in which strategy and tactics are the only available resources, effective under some circumstances but not under others?  Can we find a common enough denominator that would apply to and circumscribe all forms of human struggle against any kind of domination or oppression, be it economic or racist, against colonialism or neoliberalism, by the peasant or the indigenous folk, the truly disenfranchised and the dispossessed, or by the “sophisticated” denizens of the first world who, unlike the former, don’t seems to experience oppression firsthand but only indirectly, not in any crude or physically debilitating manner but subtly, as if by proxy?  Can humans unite under a common banner, humans from all walks of life, against all forms of oppression, a condition which seems to be the defining characteristic of the species and its checkered history and future?  Is there hope for humankind?la_revolucion_bolivariana_no_se_va

In a sense, to be asking this question is analogous to asking whether there can be such a thing as a perfect chess game, a winning strategy against every conceivable opponent, or whether chess games are won (or lost) by gearing your game to the person sitting across the board from you, to their strengths and weaknesses, their moments of brilliance as well as their blind spots, their entire personality, and what have you.  If you’re an aesthete, you’re more than likely to opt for the first alternative; but if winning is what concerns you the most, then the second-mentioned option is probably your best bet.

Offhand, we can think of two distinct, albeit related, factors which seem to mitigate against a unified theory of human struggle: first, the apparent lack of common language, the language of “common experience”; and second, the differential stages of different peoples’ progress toward self-empowerment, which render their struggles incomparable since they may well be against different opponents, which, in turn, implies a different set of objectives.  The first I consider as fundamental, the crux of the matter, and I shall take it up in the next article in this series; the second, as circumstantial.  Both obstacles can be overcome.

There are many formulations which address the second-mentioned difficulty, but the following one from La Jornada,“La sociedad de la descolonización,” I consider among the most succinct:

Submitting what we know to the criticism of the “wretched of the earth,” accepting that they have other knowledge that is not less or more valid that ours, [pre]supposes a double exercise: that of humility and that of commitment.  Humility to accept the limitations of our world and knowledge in order to be disposed to learn from the others when they are common people of color of the earth.

Commitment because that knowledge is not available in the lustrous salons of academia, nor in the armchairs of institutions.  Assimilating that knowledge requires sharing the pains and the fiestas, the walks and the celebrations of those below us, in their territories and in the measure of their time.  Since remote times we have called this attitude militancy.   (free translation from Spanish by Marthe Raymond)

The cited passage reverberates with salient themes from both Frantz Fanon and Michel Foucault.  From Foucault, because of the very idea behind the genealogy of all knowledges, a project aimed at leveling the playing field: insofar as the power/knowledge equivalence is concerned, there is no distinction to be made between “disciplinary  knowledge,” the kind of knowledge taught in academia, and “insurrectionary knowledge,” knowledge which defies it.  And from Fanon, because of the singular focus on what was (and in some parts of the world still is) an unmistakably anti-colonial struggle.

By way of illustrating the extent to which the fate of anti-colonial struggles all over the world appears to fall on deaf ears, I refer the reader to the general drift of comments dedicated to this article, the second in the series.  Aside perhaps from acknowledging the simple fact that we may be dealing here with situations and scenarios that don’t exactly coincide with the Western idea of the revolutionary agenda, I haven’t seen much of an effort on the part of the respondents to sympathize with the plight of the oppressed peoples the world over, let alone try to understand the exact ways in which their situation might differ from our own.  The best one could say is that most of the respondents were rather noncommittal; the worst, that they exhibited a characteristic lack of indifference or unconcern.  What’s particularly disturbing is that we’re talking about some of the most severe and highly articulate critics of capitalism and the decadent West.  In a sense, therefore, this article is limited in what it aims to accomplish: it’s to convince my comrades-in-arms of the error of their ways.  Only then can we move forward.

But seriously now, what are the starandard objections?  And to what?  To socialism in general or to the Bolivarian Revolution in particular?  I suppose we may go along to a point with the first-mentioned disclaimer: for indeed, socialism had proven time and again to fall short of the mark when it comes to realizing that utopian, enlightened state of being on both the individual and the societal levels.  And as far as I know, all astute thinkers and critics of East and West, North and South, all thinkers of anarchistic or post-anarchistic persuasion, are acutely aware of the dangers of statism, the inevitable byproduct of both socialism and capitalism alike.  In the final analysis, the only difference between the two equally authoritarian systems comes down to substituting one master for another, the factory owner, loosely speaking, for the apparatchik, a state-sanctioned bureaucrat.  So this cannot be the whole explanation, not insofar as the Bolivarian Revolution is concerned, not insofar as the object is to delineate a significant difference of opinion with respect to it between otherwise like-minded, right-thinking people, between people of the same ideological persuasion.  There’s got to be something else lurking in the background, something that escapes ordinary vision.

What’s being lost in the translation, I propose, is the status of those struggles: we tend to view them as “post-colonial” whereas nothing could be further from the truth.  It’s for that reason and that reason alone that we’re apt to respond to said struggles, or to whatever they’ve managed to accomplish, as though they pose some kind of threat to our cherished ideological position; which would also explain why we tend to remain noncommittal with respect to them, indifferent as the case may be or, to put it mildly, unsympathetic.  But truly, even though the peoples in question, say the peoples that comprise the bulk of South America, may have attained a post-colonial status de facto, even though they may have won their political independence from the colonial powers of yesteryears, they’re still beholden to the ole colonial ways and habits of thought; in spite of their independence, they’re still under the colonial yoke in both body and spirit.  It is this little factoid that the ever-discerning Western eye fails to take into account.  That’s not surprising, perhaps, because it is the West that’s been the chief architect and beneficiary of colonization as the means to its own self-enrichment, and that continues “to proceed colonially in South America [and wherever it can] – refusing to transfer technology, continuing to rip off resources,” et cetera et cetera.

But must we look any further than our own history to become painfully aware of the fact that a sense of national or ethnic identity doesn’t accrue to a people overnight but only as a result of a slow and arduous process?  And no, I don’t mean here the rather unique “(North) American experiment” built on the backs of native populations and cemented by the institution of slavery, a sorry narrative of how the West and a nation were won, forging thus what was soon to become an (American) identity about to be appropriated by the rightful conquerors of the New World, for that’s a chapter all unto itself; a cursory look at the European theater alone ought to suffice.  And here, isn’t the unification of Germany, or of Italy, for that matter, both relative newcomers to the European family of nations, a prime example?

Interestingly, both countries experimented with an unabashedly fascistic form of government.  Both were belligerent to an extreme.  Some historians, as a matter of fact, trace Germany’s remarkably bellicose stance at the turn of the 19th century and onwards to no other factor than her, relatively speaking, late birth as a nation.  Which again isn’t to say that a rabid, unmitigated sense of national or ethnic identity is an ingredient we would want to cultivate if the object is total emancipation of humankind from the things that divide us – skin color, ethnic or national origin, or gender.  Sooner or later, we must shed all of those things if we’re ever to attain an enlightened state of being.  But surely, and here comes the rejoinder, there are also times when nothing short of (re-)constructing a strong sense of national or ethnic identity, out of ashes, will do in order to reconstruct the long-shattered and fragile egos – of persons, groups of persons, of entire communities, in fact.  Again, this may not be the ultimate solution, but it’s surely a remedial one!

“One must crawl before one can walk,” or so we say, and it surely applies to the situation at hand.  The underlying analogy, the comparing of the birth of a nation, its characteristic aches and pains, to that of a growing individual, through childhood, adolescence and full age, may be stretched, perhaps too stretched for comfort.  Even so, it ‘s a useful metaphor as far as it goes: the vagaries of a nation-state, especially at the early stages of its inception, are not all that different from the travails of an adolescent trying to come of age.  And whatever one or the other may do by way of reaching their final destination, it can be thought of as a prop, a stepping stone, as something to be discarded and done away with once it is no longer needed.  Now, add to these considerations the fact that in addition to the economic rationale behind colonial domination, there had always lurked a racist element, an element which aimed at emaciating the entire people so as to make it indolent and malleable to the master’s will, and you can readily imagine why the collective psyche of the colonized may have been damaged to the point of requiring the most radical kind of repair.

So if there’s a moral to this modest article, let it be that no size fits all; and that there may be times when wars of liberation, liberation from the corrupt influence of the decadent West and its imperialistic outreach, may have to precede wars on behalf of a classless society.  It’s a matter of timing!  And yet for some unfathomable reason, we tend to overlook this simple fact and hold each and everyone up to the same Western standard: if it’s not in accord with our way of doing things, then it’s unlikely to succeed.

In any event, there appears to be a double standard at work here.  For example, I don’t exactly recall anyone pooh-poohing the French Revolution even though the French Republic, such as we know it today, had become just another liberal democracy, a fine sounding name for a political system which, at bottom, only justifies the workings of capitalism in terms of neoliberal ideas.  Likewise, there wasn’t much of a vocal opposition to the goals of the IRA in its struggle to win Irish independence from Britain, except perhaps for some of its methods.  Even the Arab Spring, once it became evident that momentous changes were afoot, received reluctant support from our State Department, so long, of course, as the new governments would be “democratic” and anti-socialist.

Contrast this now with our gut reaction to such events as the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the Cuban Revolution of 1959, or South America’s struggle, still unfolding, to free itself from West-imposed dictators and ruling classes ever-ready to do their masters’ bidding, and the conclusion is inescapable.  Capitalism is all that matters.  And it doesn’t make one iota of a difference, insofar as the West is concerned, how it is maintained, whether by a strongman or a parliamentary system which approximates the workings of a liberal democracy, so long of course as it is maintained.  Everything else is fluff, a pretext, nothing but window dressing.

Let’s keep this in mind before we move on!

About Roger Nowosielski

I'm a free lance writer. Areas of expertise: philosophy, sociology, liberal arts, and literature. An academic at a fringe, you might say, and I like it that way.

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The Anarchist’s Dilemma: an Interlude

Perhaps Franz Fanon rather than Michel Foucault should be the voice we ought to heed for having a better grasp of the human condition.


  1. roger nowosielski

    It should be noted that the link preceding a two-paragraph citation is, in effect, two separate links,

  2. Evo Morales: Ten commandments against capitalism, for life
    and humanity

    Álvaro García Linera: Geopolitics of the Amazon

    Some context for a discussion of the Bolivarian system.

  3. Long ago, I read an article by William F. Buckley pooh-poohing the French Revolution, on precisely the basis that it led only to yet another instance of bourgeois social democracy, which could have been approached by other means than the Terror and the Napoleonic Wars. (There was a period when the French might have gone with a constitutional monarchy, rather than executing the king and fighting everyone in the room.) Buckley pointed out that the meaning of revolution is to go around a full circle and come back to where one began. Of course Buckley was wearing his Burkean mask, but for once I thought his argument was rather coherent.

    But what most dissuades me from supporting specific anti-colonial wars and leaders, to be waged by governments, actual and would-be, is that it’s not up to me to tell people in other countries, with other cultures, histories, languages, and predicaments, what to do. My job, as I see it, is to get the U.S. and NATO and organized world Capital off their backs and to otherwise leave them alone. Enlightened or benighted as it may be, every community has to make its own way. I believe that the first step for conscious Americans (USAns) is to build an effective anti-war, anti-imperial, anti-police state movement with such people as agree with that program, regardless of their other disagreements. I wish I knew how to do it.

    Of course I will reconsider if the entire Third World sends me a delegation begging for my advice.

  4. …or one could say that there are more generous ways to interpret reticence to ‘critique’ the movement.

  5. roger nowosielski

    Great links, especially Linera’s essay on Geopolitics of the Amazon. In addition to a wealth of detail, we’re treated to superb analysis and understanding of the complexities underlying the South American situation.

    It’s comforting to know that a theoretician of such caliber occupies an important position as a functionary of the Bolivarian state. Comforting, because it’s an assurance of sorts that we’re not dealing with just any ad hoc, impulsive reaction whose aim is to reverse the effects of colonialism but a measured, thoughtful, and far reaching program with an eye to the future.

  6. roger nowosielski

    I didn’t mean to saddle you with a guilt trip. Anarcissie, nor am I saying that I or you both know what would be the most effective course of action in South America. Just trying to understand the nature of anti-capitalist struggle in geopolitical terms. And what does emerge here for me is that in some fundamental sense, one cannot understand capitalism without colonialism, that colonialism is an indispensable dimension of the system, its essential aspect.

    The kind of goals and objectives you set for yourself and for conscious Americans (USAns) — “to build an effective anti-war, anti-imperial, anti-police state movement with such people as agree with that program, regardless of their other disagreements” — are of course right-headed, but who are your collaborators or accomplices? The defunct US labor unions, the growing army of the unemployed, the shrinking middle class, the disenchanted students (the remnant of the OWS), the African-Americans, Latinos, the academics who populate the CT thread? You yourself say “I wish I knew how to do it.” Indeed!

    Perhaps it’s this kind of frustration that makes one turn to other theaters of action where the terms of the conflict and the opposition are more clearly defined, where the fight is already going on, where there are some chances of success. Besides, it’s not exactly unAmerican to participate in revolutionary struggles in other parts of the world. Some of the best ones had done it. Think of Roberto, Hemingway’s alter ego, in “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”

    And as to the strategy of working in the interstices or on a fringe, I find the following counterargument rather compelling:

    In contrast to a naïve ultraleftism that thinks a society
    can escape world domination by itself, Lenin and Marx remind
    us that capitalism operates on a world scale, and can only
    be overcome on a world scale. 93 So struggles and efforts
    for the socialization of production in a single country are
    simply that: efforts, battles and dispersed skirmishes that convey an historical intent but can triumph only if they expand to become struggles on a world scale. Communism either is world-wide or it will never
    be. And while there is a general predominance of capitalism,
    within it there are glimmers and tendencies of struggles of
    a potential new mode of production that cannot exist locally, and can only
    be present as just that: a tendency, a struggle, a possibility, for its existence is conceivable only on a worldwide geopolitical scale. The illusion of “communism in a single country” was just that: an illusion that brought disastrous
    consequences for the workers of that country and for the expectations of revolution in the 20th century.

    Socialism is not a new mode of production that would coexist alongside capitalism, territorially contesting the world or one country. Socialism is a
    battlefield between capitalism in crisis and the tendencies,
    potentialities and efforts to bring production under community
    ownership and control. 94 In other words, it is the historical
    period of struggle between the dominant established capitalist
    mode of production and another potentially new mode of
    production. The only mode of production that will
    overcome capitalism is communism, the assumption of
    community ownership and control of production of the
    material life of society. And that mode of production does not
    exist piecemeal, it can only exist on a world scale. But
    until that happens the only thing that is left is the struggle.

    Cited from “Geopolitics of the Amazon.”

    • To begin with, I think you need to decide whether to take the conservative position that coercion and the state are inevitable, the radical position that they are not, or possibly an agnostic position that one doesn’t know, can’t know, or finds the question meaningless. If the state is inevitable, then of course the right path must be to reform it or overthrow it and create new states, through whatever means are necessary. These will be highly coercive, that is, violent, but you can’t make an omelet, etc. For reasons I have given before, I think the probable outcome of this strategy will be self-annihilation, etc. etc. etc. (You’ve heard it all before.)

      Regardless of one’s position on this matter, it is certain that we do not yet know how to be socialists, how to be communists. There is really no way of creating and plunking down a socialist state or community from on high, because we are ignorant. The socialist states which were created in the 20th century failed, not merely because of evil or incompetent leadership, but because we don’t know how to do it. We have to learn by doing. That is what the fringes and the interstices are for. This is not an isolationist position: we can support anarchists, cooperatives, communes, anywhere, not through labels but through similarities of action.

      The greatest fact of human culture, of human life, is ignorance. This is one of the reasons we should stop killing people. There are others.

  7. Here is a pertinent chapter from How not to be Governed Klausen and Martel 2011:

    George Ciccariello-Maher: An Anarchism that is not Anarchism: Notes toward a Critique of Anarchist

  8. Hellllooooo out there….(hellllooo out there)…where is everyone???? I will call you this eve, Roger. Couldn’t get the phone yesterday. Today is quiet. Now let me read your article.

  9. roger nowosielski

    Great. I was trying to reach you yesterday, but to no avail. There are some great links, too, provided by “t” as well as within the body of the article. Look at some of it if you can.

    As for traffic, there hasn’t been much since the new BC platform. Dreadful’s been making a case to Barbara Barnett to the effect that the Politics section got a shaft, having been buried within the “Society & Culture” category, and that the regular commenters on the subject matter political were the most vigorous of the BCers.

    Well, it looks as though it’s no longer the case, To put it mildly, it’s an anemic bunch.

  10. roger nowosielski

    I must say that you read my mind. The last link is top notch.

    It’s good to know that my instincts are still intact and that my articulation, however poor at the start, is decent,

    I’ve always known that, of course, by virtue of past experience, but it’s always good to be reassured time and again.

    In any case, let’s all keep an open and evolving mind. There’s no other way!

    • I got as far as the Hegel, which, as usual, crushed my spirit with its featureless icy fog. Before that, though, I read this gibe against the hippies: ‘The American state … was not built on animal cruelty or child abuse, however pervasive and heinous these forms of domination are. Rather … it was built on white supremacy.’ Ta-daah! Take that, you hippies! The problem here is that for the hippies, racism, animal cruelty, and child abuse are different faces of the same poisonous machine. It is quite reasonable, quite rational, to connect them logically, to attack one by attacking another. And maybe the hippies are succeeding. Things have changed a lot in the last forty-odd years.

      Also, the American state, although certainly racist, was built on more than racism. Otherwise it would look like the more purely racial states, instead of being the malign, polymorphous circus that tumbles before us.

      • Anarcissie – Connolly does Hegel justice in his A World of Becoming…more or less comprehensible – 12 and 1/2 bucks at amazon.

        • If someone says, ‘Es ist der Gang Gottes in der Welt, dass der Staat ist,’, this person’s works are not likely to be high on my list of things to read, directly or indirectly.

          But in fact, in the past, I have read some Hegel, and I have read about Hegel. Now, if a writer claims to be proceeding logically (as philosophers usually do) I insist that he or she put forward some idea of the universe of discourse, the terms of which this universe is composed, and the operations which can be performed on the terms. This is what scientists do with physical phenomena and mathematics — because they believe the universe, ‘reality’, can be at least partially represented in this way. Also, I need some reason to believe that the language or other tools the philosopher proposes to use can represent some sort of truth about the said universe. Hegel, in my opinion, does not meet any of these criteria. It is impossible to tell what he is talking about, which is why he can be at once popular with liberals, conservatives, fascists, reactionaries, people who love art, people who hate art, calico cats, etc. etc. etc.

          If the philosopher is not proceeding logically, then what we have is essentially poetry (or propaganda) and in that case I would rather read Emily Dickinson, who is a lot better at it, and also as far as I know does not support wholesale slaughter.

          • Anarcissie, our approaches to texts differ. I realize from the jump that, speaking for myself, there is no way to be sure that I understand the original author’s meaning, and that what I’m dealing with are interpretations, starting with my own. It is to these that I might apply the logical methods of modern formal systems. When I say that Connolly does Hegel justice I mean, in part, that his interpretation meets these logical standards. Each of multiple interpretations must be (tediously) evaluated on its merits if we’re going to compare them.

            As the act of interpretation is so fundamental to the process, I’d say that it all is poetry. As for tastes in such, to each his or her own.

            All that said, based on my view of dialectics as an essentially errant description of social change, I find Hegel particularly distasteful, as well.

          • I feel that I should apologize for being overly brusque in my dismissal of your suggestion. After all I am not a philosopher.

          • you philosophize perdy good for a not-philosopher, imo

  11. roger nowosielski

    I thought you were going to look at some of the links, Cindy, and comment.

  12. roger nowosielski

    What I’m getting out of the recent excursion into the ways of South American politics is that concept such as “the state” or “the institution” are historically-bound and that it’s a mistake to treat them in the abstract, in an absolutist kind of way. And you do know, I’m certain, about my predilection for the abstract. So at least there’s one thing you’ve got to admit: a definite turn in my thinking.

    As a matter of fact, it was in one of the threads on David Graeber, in Naked Capitalism, I believe, that a peculiar point was made: there had always been people who operated outside of the state limits and areas of jurisdiction, people who had “traded” with “the state” while not being a part of it.

    In any case, what I derive from this and other readings is that “the state” is a fluid concept; and that perhaps we’re making a major mistake in thinking of it in absolute terms, or, in what has been aptly described, in my honest opinion. as the end-all-be-all. It’s just an intermediate measure, a gambit, a way to move forward. I really think you should check out the link in a comment by “t,” they’re not numbered anymore, which makes for cumbersome referencing, to George Ciccariello-Maher’s work: I find it refreshing.

    Not the mention the fact that Graeber himself is referenced in the subject article.

    I look forward to your response.

  13. roger nowosielski

    I see you’re already into the linked subject article, so I’m gonna have to postpone my comments until a later time.

    Meanwhile, I don’t think the reference to Hegel should stop you in your tracks. Personally, I myself am somewhat conflicted about the idea of “dialectics” or “dialectical thinking.” My rather naive take on it is — it’s a dynamic kind of thinking, allowing for the contradictions to play out.

    What I’m trying to say, I suppose, the linked article I’m referring to is a chuck-full of ideas, agree with them or not.

    • Whether the concept of the state is fluid or not depends on how you’re defining it. Certainly members of the set of all presently-existing nation-states exhibit a considerable variety of attributes, but some important things are true of all of them (according to me). A fundamental attribute of states are that they are produced by governments, which are institutions (permanent social organizations) claiming a monopoly of arbitrarily initiated coercive force over a territory. That is, they allow themselves and each other to kill, imprison, torture, terrorize, rob, etc., their subjects. Some of them have rules about this, others really don’t. But the central, fundamental fact of the state is violence. That includes democratic and socialist states.

      Clearly, the state is the most effective form of organized social violence, because it has defeated and continues to defeat all the others (most of the time). As we have learned in recent weeks, as if we somehow did not know already, its vision becomes more acute and its grip tighter with every passing day.

      Now we are confronted with a moral or aesthetic question: Where do we stand in relation to this violence? As I mentioned above, there is a view that violence is endemic and ineradicable, and another that it isn’t. Anarchists and libertarians, cognizant that violence leads to the state, often start out abjuring it categorically, so that is the side they are at least pretending to be on. Perhaps they are fools running their heads into the stone walls of nature. Perhaps they are not anarchists but Buddhistic nihilists, despising fact and nature: ‘Like me, all things tremble, fearing punishment: therefore I will not strike or slay.’ (Dhammapada 129)

      Or, one might be more hopeful — as I said, the hippies have had some success in recent decades. For them, the question is how to advance the cause, how to further corrode the remaining, indeed, increasing institutions of oppression.

      Other people really seem to be jonesing for a license to kill, which one version of the state or another will be glad to provide on request, or even without one. The question of which ones is an exercise left to the reader.

  14. Roger, of course you’re absolutely right that most of what we call “revolutions” are illusory, and that the Arab Spring is a great example of this. The peoples of Tunisia, Libya and Egypt have ended up with leaders who may act somewhat more ethically than their predecessors but operate in basically the same way as before.

    It’s like a group of shareholders firing the CEO: they may bring in someone new at the top, but the actual company remains exactly the same.

    If you’re looking for genuine revolution, i.e. a fundamental change in how a population governs and conducts itself, you usually need to think on a longer scale. To address another of your examples, the way modern Europe works is profoundly different from the way medieval Europe worked, but the change took several centuries to accomplish and still isn’t complete: aspects of feudalism remain in many European social systems.

    Fundamental revolutions do happen on a shorter timescale, but sadly a third of your examples is a perfect illustration of this. The European colonization of the Americas replaced, relatively abruptly, the indigenous systems of government with something that in no way resembled them.

    Certainly, one size doesn’t fit all, and it’s certainly the case that genuine revolution ain’t always good, either.

    • roger nowosielski


      From now on, I’m going to ignore the “reply” function, especially in the comments space appropriate to my articles, as there isn’t enough traffic to justify grouping the comments as though forming a number of different branches (of a tree), and will post all responses at the top, utilizing the “Leave a Message” function as a default position.

      See the top comment, therefore, as partial response.

  15. roger nowosielski

    I think we do agree on some basic facts, Rob. Not certain, however, whether you’re reading everything I’m saying in the way I intended.

    First, of course revolutions don’t happen overnight. The kind of transition you’re referring in your comment, from a feudal to what eventually had become a capitalist society had taken centuries, so perhaps “evolution” in a better term to describe these events; and in that context, the Industrial Revolution. which, in a sense, sealed the great societal transformation in a matter of half a century or so — due to technological/scientific advances and breakthroughs which had made it possible — was, in a manner of speaking, but an icing on the cake.

    Umberto Eco makes a similar point, outlining the relationship between reform and and revolution, and I’m citing here from “Language, Power, Force”:

    “. . . in power there is never any distance between reform and revolution, since revolution is the moment when a slow process of gradual adjustments suddenly undergoes what René Thom would call a catastrophe, a sudden turn; but in the sense in which a collecting of seismic movements suddenly produces an upheaval of the earth. A final breaking point of something already formed in advance, step by step. Revolutions then would be the catastrophes of the slow movements of reform, quite independent of the will of the subjects, casual effect of a final compounding of forces that obeys a strategy of symbolic adjustments ripening over a long time.”

    from Travels in Hyperactivity, p. 255

    So in that sense, we could also look at the storming of the Bastille as but an icing on the cake.

    As an aside, the phrase, “quite independent of the will of the subjects.” is significant in and of itself; it ties in with Fanon’s (and Sorel’s) view of “mass movements” as essentially “irrational,” acquiring a momentum all their own. On a literary side, Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust is an excellent depiction of the irrationality of a crowd (mob).

    For another glance at the makeup of “revolutions,” as well as the dire need for funding, see my exchange with Bruce Wilder on the
    following CT thread (comments 51, 56. 60, 61 & 66). It validates your point.

    to be cont’d

  16. So, Roger, if we agree that revolutions are not really anything of the kind but that fundamental change takes many centuries and an array of intermediate steps: what specific events or developments would you see as being rungs on the ladder leading to an eventual replacement of the current capitalist system?

    I’m not necessarily talking about philosophers and other authors scratching away abstractly into the night, but concrete ideas that have been noted and acted on by people with influence.

    Climate change and the depletion of fossil fuels are obviously two of them, but how about others?

  17. …alienation induced psychosis evidenced by:

    the ever-present and increasing probability of thermonuclear war as the limit of State violence

    gmo seed as the limit of decreasing biodiversity

  18. roger nowosielski

    Tough question, Dreadful. It’s far easier to venture a prognosis in the realm of geopolitics — away from a one-polar and towards a “multi-polar” world, with China as one power center, economic and political, and South America as another. to undercut the dominance of the West (as per this comments thread, for example, #85). And if it’s indeed the case that (i) capitalism operates on a world scale, and can only be overcome on a world scale” (see the long citation in one of the preceding comments), and (ii), that its global expansion is predicated on some form of colonialism. then a significant shift in the balance of powers (in the direction of a multi-polar world) just might have a detrimental (although indirect) effect on placing a definite limits on its global expansion,

    This presumes, of course, that the competing power centers would operate on a somewhat different economic principle than that of “pure” capitalism — a form of socialism, perhaps.

    Perhaps Anarcissie or troll may chime in and offer their prognostication.

    • 1. Capitalism appears to be inherently unstable (or dynamic, if you prefer), at least going by history and by certain theories (Marxism, for example). Capitalism is unstable primarily because it produces surpluses which must be disposed of in order to produce scarcity, which is the political lifeblood of the capitalist order.

      2. Part of the instability of capitalism is its tendency to change its form under pressure.

      3. Imperialism predates capitalism; it is simply the logic of the state applied to some state’s political environment.

      4. Part of the dynamic of capitalism (besides the transition from subsistence to consumer and then finance capitalism) has been to adapt itself to imperialism, that is, a highly asymmetrical world order with some highly developed centers and large at first unexploited regions, the ‘outside’ of capitalism. This sort of world order jibes well with the capitalist owner-manager-worker-consumer corporate model. Capitalism in this stage proceeds by expanding the width and depth of exploitation, that is, it pushes the boundary with the outside forward.

      5. The former capitalist-imperial world order is coming to an end as the increasing amount of energy and information at the disposal of most people increases their ability to resist, modify, or adapt to and take advantage of aspects of the world order which they formerly found disadvantageous to themselves. This is the point at which capitalism will lose its ‘outside’ and the production of scarcity will be threatened.

      6. The dissolution of the old order can be looked upon as a major crisis. Perhaps it should be called The (capital-C) Crisis.

  19. roger nowosielski

    Anarcissie, troll, Dreadful.

    The following series of reviews, 6 in total, of a new book by Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin,The Making of Global Capitalism, should be of interest and relevance to the topics discussed.

  20. So, we’re going to rest with: “Anarchism is tainted by Euro-logic, but State Socialism, not so much”?

  21. roger nowosielski

    Just for the record, is this the presumed weakness of the “Anarchism that is not Anarchism” piece?

    (I’m not done yet with “The Making of Global Capitalism” reviews.)

  22. …and of Bolivarian self-justification

  23. roger nowosielski

    Well, I was under the impression that the very strength of the first piece was to draw our attention to the possibility that it may be a mistake to think of “(state) socialism” in an absolutist kind of sense, that it is a concrete formation in a given historical context, itself subject to historical development, that comparisons across the board are somewhat suspect.

    Which is why I used the term “fluid.” And that Anarcissie’s response “it all depends on how you define such and such …” was kind of begging the question.

    • ‘Begging the question’ is not a bad idea when the question is unclear or seems insoluble; putting it in a different form may open the way to an answer, or to a better question. In the particular case — about whether the state may be a fluid concept — some things about contemporary states are fluid, and others are not. So also the enactment of socialism (another rather amorphous concept these days) by a state. I have trouble understanding what people are talking about. My usual method for dealing with this problem is to try to see what happens when the concepts hit the ground, when the rubber meets the road, so to speak. But my ability to inform myself about what is going on in other countries, and understand what I learn, is quite limited.

      In fact the article about ‘imperial anarchism’ complains about anarchists going to Venezuela and meeting with other anarchists who evidently gave them the ‘wrong’ idea about what is going on in Venezuela. (I am aware that some Venezuelan anarchists had complaints about Chávez, so I suppose this is what is being referred to.) But what else could they do, besides stay home, and not concern themselves with Venezuela at all? This is not a rhetorical question, exactly. I am curious as to what form of thought, speech, and (other) action that article is recommending. Surely it can’t be ‘One must support Chávez because he is sort of non-European.’

  24. Thinking of socialism in a fluid sense de-Europeanizes the concept?

  25. roger nowosielski


  26. roger nowosielski

    As distinct, too, from the Scandinavian version.

  27. roger nowosielski

    It de-Europeanizes it, especially in the South America context.

  28. The notion that socialism is a moment in the ‘dialectic of becoming’ is distinctly European.

  29. roger nowosielski

    “Dialectic of becoming” is a developmental process applicable to all societies and cultures. It captures the rhythm of life. In that sense, it’s not proprietarry.

  30. And the anarchic relationships of everyday life are proprietary?

  31. I’ll stick my neck out farther and propose that a moment of socialism is not necessary (or necessarily a good idea) in all developmental processes.

    In any case, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, as They say. If the Bolivarians are able to structure wealth redistribution and commons management in ways that are ‘in keeping with’ traditional/indigenous ideas and methods that achieve sustainability, then more power to them.

  32. roger nowosielski

    Fair enough. Didn’t mean to suggest the SA experiment with socialism was going to be foolproof; it may well end being another trap. In any case, my remarks about fluidity pertained to institutions, state among them.

    Even so, what options were there for the Bolivians or the Venezuelans to wrest control from the traditional power centers other than by means of the state (which, if my reading is correct, still has “its hands full” and is, more or less, in an embryonic stage.

  33. roger nowosielski

    Aren’t you backpedaling here a bit, Anarcissie? Only a while ago, you were so very adamant about the folly of giving “these people” any advice, Even in this comment, you emphatically reiterate this very position since, as you state, “my ability to inform myself about what is going on in other countries, and understand what I learn, is quite limited.” And I’m in perfect agreement with you on this, as far as it goes. And yet in the very next paragraph, you’re asking an existential question: what else could they [i.e., “Western-bred” anarchists] (besides stay home) do, and not concern themselves with Venezuela at all?”

    What’s wrong with sitting down and listening and trying to understand what’s going on rather than imposing one’s own views on the locals? Wouldn’t that be the more sensible thing to do? After all, it’s not their fight, it’s not their country. It’s rather easy to be intellectual and abstract about it when it’s not your fight, when your own life is not on the line. I very seriously doubt whether “the foreigners” who participated in the Spanish Civil War, against Franco, brought that kind of attitude with them, not when they were in the line of fire themselves, although there surely were legitimate disputes about what’s the best way to proceed. But all were in perfect agreement, I’m willing to bet, as to who the enemy was.

    You say: “I am curious as to what form of thought, speech, and (other) action that article is recommending. Surely it can’t be ‘One must support Chávez because he is sort of non-European.’” Of course not! But the Venezuela article is quite clear as regards the kinds of philosophical divisions that were brought to the table. It speaks quite forcefully to the effect that not all forms of oppression and domination are alike, that it’s a cardinal mistake to lump them all together under one banner of human equality in some abstract sense, that to articulate some such equality as a principle to live by is one thing and that to put it into practice is another, that the failure of the slogan which triggered the French Revolution, the failure of the French Revolution, wasn’t merely a failure of execution. It was a specific failure, a failure which was doomed to start with, because it had remained at the level of a principle, was never really put into practice.

    But of course it is awfully difficult for Western-bred anarchists to admit to the errors of their ways and to shed their eurocentrism, for aren’t we, after all, talking ‘bout former liberals, liberals who had come to their senses and abandoned their neoliberal views for a more enlightened vision of the future? But in effect, they’ve merely substituted one religion, one orthodoxy, for another. Their eurocentrism is the one thing they haven’t been able to shed; it remains. And yes, I’m speaking here as a Westerner myself. I too need to be mindful of where I come from, of my blind spots and biases. Which is why I appreciate Marthe Raymond’s input so much, her kind of indignation and anger: it reminds me of where she’s at and where I am not!

    I believe that’s the object lesson to be derived from the two articles.

  34. What’s wrong with sitting down and listening and trying to understand what’s going on rather than imposing one’s own views on the locals? Wouldn’t that be the more sensible thing to do?

    Who’s arguing otherwise?

    Perhaps a representative of the union of coca leaf growers will join the conversation.

  35. Brazil, Turkey, Bulgaria…welcome to the party.

  36. Roger, please expand on your idea of institutional fluidity. I don’t yet see how this is a new non-European addition to critical theory. From what you’ve gleaned, in what sense do the Bolivarians view their nation states as fluid institutions mores so than the Scandinavians?

    What else could they have done? Arguing from the necessity of the real is one bit of masturbation that will make you go blind.

  37. roger nowosielski

    The institutions are “fluid” in a sense that they’re still evolving and are far from having reached a mature form. What I gather thus far from a cursory reading of the Bolivarian “self-justification” paper — and I may have to reread parts of it to make certain — the Bolivarian state, unlike the instances we’re most familiar with, is but one major player on the national stage. And I’m not referring here merely to the division of powers within a closed system which defines and circumscribes the political — such as our three branches of government; nor am I referring to the presumably independent power vested in the Fourth Estate, which, although outside the political, is free to comment on the political and influence public opinion one way or another.

    So no, I’m not referring here to the mere fact that there are competing interests which find their expression and play out in a well-defined political arena, but rather to an unusual situation in which (i), the political itself is not clearly defined, and (ii), the state, rather than forming a comprehensive stage, a theater of action, for the competing interests to square off with one another and come to a resolution of sorts, is itself one of the players on par with some of the others, and that state’s interests are often found to be in direct conflict with, and are therefore indistinguishable at times from, other interests. When one reads in fact parts of the Bolivarian “self-justification,” one gets a distinct impression that the political processes depicted are not from this planet but belong rather to the realm of science fiction.

    Consequently, to say that these institutional formation are grounded in reality, and are more or less a function of necessity, is not to say anything in particular, nor is it to account for the particular form they happen to assume: all institutions appear to be grounded so, across all societies and cultures. It’s the particulars of that reality, its more or less unique or less unique features, that determine the particulars of the emerging institutions.

    How do I go from there to argue that the trajectory of some of the Latin American states need not necessarily follow the trajectory we’ve come to associate with modern European states? It’s precisely because the former are still in embryonic stages, in a manner of speaking, that this need not be the case (just as we can’t say with absolute certainty that a pattern of growth and eventual development of person A raised under certain conditions will necessarily be replicated when person B, raised under different conditions, is the subject. Quite the contrary, we have all the reasons in the world to expect the results would be different.

    What, then, are the different conditions in place which may well produce different outcomes? Different cultures, for one, the difference between the colonizer’s mentality and that of the colonized, the absence of the European baggage, the non-capitalist beginnings.

    If we go along with Anarcissie’s operational definition of the “minimal state” as “the most effective form of organized social violence, because it has defeated and continues to defeat all the others (most of the time),” then we may grant that the South American states may well be on their way to acquiring that
    characteristic in the future; at the same time, we must also say that they’re
    not there yet, and that it is far from certain that they’ll necessarily get
    there. Again, different starting conditions may well result in different outcomes.

    To complicate matters further, we can’t even speak of South American states in any generic sense, as this article from, Latin America’s Progressive Governments: Their Origins, Nature and Challenges makes abundantly clear. So yes, even here we have within variance.

  38. roger nowosielski

    Editors, webmaster, etc.

    These “related posts” are taking over again. Does this come with the dubious distinction of having the most comments?

    In any case, it makes it almost impossible to be posting anymore, before having to scroll though an endless series of “related posts.” Not to mention the fact Disqus is acting up. making you sign up as guest even though you have already registered.

  39. roger nowosielski

    Thanks. It worked.

  40. roger nowosielski

    Looks as though there’s no traffic on BC whatsoever. What goes?

  41. The SS Blogcritics is headed for an iceberg

  42. roger nowosielski

    Dreadful doesn’t do much good either by first posing a question and then checking out, and neither does “troll.” Anarcissie feels slighted, though I apologized, and Cindy is on an extended vacation from all manner of intellectual endeavor. The remaining “regulars,” such as John Lake, Glenn Contrarian or Baronius, have barely posted a comment since the new platform has been in effect. (Gosh, I never would have thought that I’d ever miss Baronius, but in this here intellectual desert, even Baronius would be a welcome addition.)

    If only Marthe Raymond was here to stir up some shit, because that’s precisely what the new Blogcritics are in dire need of. Unfortunately, it’s not my decision to make, whether we sink or swim. And going by the preponderance of evidence, it definitely looks like the former, my friend.

    • I don’t feel slighted. I asked some questions about the difference between, say, the Venezuelan state and the general run of states presently existing which I don’t think have been answered. I might add that statements like ‘I demand absolute loyalty to my leadership… I am not an individual, I
      am a people. I am obliged to ensure respect for the people. Those who
      want a homeland, come with Chávez… Here, in the revolutionary ranks of
      the people, I demand maximum loyalty and unity. Unity, free and open
      discussion, but loyalty… anything else is treason’
      are awfully familiar, and not in a good way, especially the total identification of the people and the leader.

      The fundamental question (as I see it) is about the legitimization and organization of violence.

      Expressions of resentment and anger on the Net are so constant and ubiquitous that they carry very little information, and have ceased to inspire even my cynicism.

      • roger nowosielski

        Rest assured that if either resentment or anger managed to rear their ugly head in my communication, none were intended. If anything, only a sense of frustration in that people seemed unresponsive to the kinds of issues I was bringing to the table as I myself was struggling with them; but perhaps I brought it on myself because I, too, must have seemed unresponsive to them. In short, I got the impression that we all were talking past one another. Hence a sense of frustration, which neither helped restore the dialogue nor was really appropriate to voice in a public forum such as this one. Which is why I apologized.

        • My remark about anger was in reference to Marthe Raymond, not you. It’s not important. I read some of the materials cited and it seems to me that people are tiptoeing around some pretty overt fascism or Leninism, and where that leads, historically, is back to the capitalism from which one was supposedly trying to escape (with a possible detour through some latter-day feudalism). In any case, we are not being shown a new kind of state. I think Chávez could reasonably argue, were he still alive, that as Venezuela was under attack or at least threatened, militaristic behaviors were necessary merely for self-defense, but the stuff about personifying the people has some really bad antecedents.

          Some of the people in Latin America, especially the indigenous peoples, do have other, traditional forms of social organization, which the states there have of course done their best to wipe out, but I don’t see any of that rising to the level of nation-state behavior. Worshiping a great leader is not what I’m talking about.

          Oddly, this comment, and the two from which it descends, appears at the top of the page for this discussion, where the sorting order is set to ‘oldest’ and one would expect it to appear near the bottom.

  43. I know that the BC people thought they were increasing options for posters, but what they produced is an intimidating snarl.

  44. I’d like to say thanks to all the people that made this site so fun over the years. Whether I agreed or disagreed with any particular person is beyond the point–it was the bunch of us that made this place such a joy, even if that joy was a bunch of frustration and anger. Magnificent conversations and shouting matches were had. I enjoyed myself. Best to you all.

    • I hope this won’t be the end of the fun, despite these challenging times…

      • Me neither. (Obviously I can’t quite stay away…) if only fresh comments would return, I think the site would be navigable again. And all I can talk about is how much I dislike the new site… Ugh. Hopefully, improvements are on the way. I bet I’ll keep checking.

        • Aside from Roger, Cindy and Anarcissie’s dogged postings on this thread, and John’s dogged article submissions, BC seems to have gone as dead as the proverbial iron room closure device fastener.

          I’ve been commenting at places like Slate, Salon, HuffPo (which is a bit too tabloidy for my liking) and the Economist, but those are all huge, unruly sites where the comments come thick and fast and rapidly get too much to keep track of.

          If anybody comes across a place that’s as broad a church yet as manageable as BC Politics used to be, I’d love to know about it.

          • roger nowosielski

            Yes, CT is one such site, broad and focused at the same time, but for the most part, you’re dealing with stiff shirts.

            But does it sound as though you’ve given up?

          • Rob, If someone actually does “come across a place that’s as broad a church, yet manageable,” please, please, please let us ALL know!!

            You hit the nail oin the head, Rob. The old BC (or at least its Politics section), was open to all, and because of its openness and (what I’m proudest of) its unbiased editorial policy, it attracted not only solid numbers of both writers and commenters, but also a wide variety of political viewpoints, all presented in an easy to use and follow format and layout.. It was, in a phrase, an excellent and attractive forum.

  45. The best to you, too, zing. It was always fun (and very challenging) to interact with you, and I hope we can again before long.

    • roger nowosielski

      And so do I, though we all fought like cats and dogs at times. And indeed, when I first joined, 2008 I think, it was a lot of fun. In spite of a great many vocal disagreements, even insults, there was a sense of a community. After a while, in spite of Clavos’s wise advice that we were nothing but pixels on the screen, soon enough one got the feel that that we sort of knew one another, right or wrong. At least I thought I did.

      But seriously, folks. Is it not up to us to restore it, if we so choose? Granted, the new platform, at first sight, does look uninviting and very user-nonfriendly, not to mention people in general tend to resist all kinds of change. But once one gets over some of the quirks, like the one Cindy mentioned, about nested messages, and gets around them, it is not as bad as it sounds.

      So yes, it is up to us, not the management, to make it work, if we only try. It would be a real loss not to be able to recreate the kind of spirited dialogue we once had and lose it all. Let’s give it a go!

    • Hope so as well. As roger says, we’ve all gotten to know each other to a certain degree. Friend or frenemy, you all are people I do think about with alarming regularity. You’re my politics buddies, and I appreciate you all the more if we disagree. I have enough people in my life that think in generally the same terms I do.

      But after a few weeks, I’m giving up hope this place will ever be quite the same. And I want it the same. Call me conservative.

      The politics section is lagging right now. I’m sure the writers are going through the same shit the commenters are. Nothing on the IRS flap? (it’s bullshit.). Nothing from the right on the NSA? I can’t even begin to defend that shit. But I don’t really think about these things unless I got my politics buddies to force me.

      I’m hopeless hooked on this shit, but I don’t like the product right now.

  46. I second zingzing. I officially abandon Blogcritics in spirit. I will post never-the-less so I won’t abandon my comrades.

  47. I am not using nested messages, fwiw. I find reading them to be like trying to examine every hole in a block of swiss cheese.

  48. I found this review really intriguing. Has anyone read Carson’s book? I intend to. I think this is likely a ‘not to be missed’ read. GAMBONE, Larry. Move over Karl, Anarchism Is Back! (Review of Kevin A. Carson’s Studies in Mutualist Political Economy)

  49. roger nowosielski

    Indeed, Cindy is so right about “nested messages.” While convenient to use in a one-on-one format, it is so much against the spirit of an open for all debate, which was one of the unique strengths of the old BC. So let’s all ignore that particular feature, or reserve it at least for special circumstances.

  50. I couldn’t agree more, Roger. Disqus was introduced despite us not because of us and I am not finding any advantages to it in the community sense, although I suspect Technorati had other considerations.

  51. No whining.

  52. There is a difference between whining and on topic criticism.

  53. roger nowosielski

    It’s no secret I’ve been visiting and posting on other sites as well, truthdig, for example, or CT. And although the level of discussion, especially on the latter, academic-leaning site, is of a certain quality, one gets a distinct impression that but for one or two exceptions, one is dealing for the most part with stiff shirts. It almost takes all the fun away from positing on these sites for fear that you might say something stupid or not up to the “academic standard.”

    We certainly never had anything of the kind here, which is why it was all in good fun, dealing with real people.

  54. If writers keep posting interesting articles with some predictable regularity, comments will come. I assume that the new politics editors are making every effort in this regard – reaching out to established bc writers and the like.

    Roger – I have not given up on direct action within the heart of the beast. I cannot foresee a situation in which I would act to support a transitional socialist government here. Further, regardless of the possible developing necessity of a strategy of violent struggle, I stand opposed to such an approach.

  55. That is, while some might juxtapose poetry and the practical, I’ll quote e.e. quoting:

    “”there is some shit I will not eat””

  56. (…and, that said, I just finished reading Seth Lazar’s Associative Duties and the Ethics of Killing in War at the new Journal of Practical Ethics; I feel like strangling someone.)

  57. Bliffle – I didn’t understand your remark about Technorati removing a competitor.

    Roger – I persist with BC for the same reason; however much people may agree or disagree, we are at least people, not stereotypes.

    • If you can’t beat ’em, buy ’em.

    • I was of the impression BC was an off-shoot of Technorati. The bottom line is BC is trying to go all review, all the time, with less emphasis on Politics. I am getting far fewer reads (like ten percent of what I got at the old site). I hope the weather changes.

    • Do you have any idea at all how frustrating it is to try to reply to a remark when instead of them being in chronological order they’re grouped in such a way that ones posted an hour ago are next to ones posted three days ago?
      Disqus has destroyed the sense of community in the BC community because without the fresh comments page it’s near impossible to gauge the mood – especially when the home page lists so few of them.

      I used to be able to join a discussion I found interesting from a few days ago by clicking my shortcut to the FCs page, now I feel like yesterday’s news and I’m sure a lot of popular subjects don’t get the attention they deserve simply because they fell to the wayside before anyone noticed they were even there!

  58. (I found a copy of this journal article, which is likely only temporarily available for free. If you might want it, get it as it costs $20 normally.)

    Income Inequality and Social Dysfunction (pdf)

    A review of 34 studies concluded that the tendency for homicides to be more common in more unequal societies was robust (Hsieh & Pugh 1993). In a later paper analyzing data for the 50 U.S. states, Kaplan et al. (1996) reported strong associations (adjusted for median state incomes) between greater state income inequality and higher rates of low birth weight, homicide, violent crime, and imprisonment and worse educational outcomes for schoolchildren. In addition to morbidity and mortality, Wilkinson & Pickett (2007) brought together evidence suggesting that inequality was also associated with rates of obesity, teenage birth, mental illness, homicide, low levels of trust, low social capital, hostility, racism, poor educational performance among schoolchildren, imprisonment, drug overdose mortality, and low social mobility. Outcomes were always significantly worse in more unequal, rich, developed countries and, almost always, in the more unequal of the 50 U.S. states as well. Since then, the list of social problems associated with inequality has lengthened to include women’s status, juvenile homicides, child conflict, children overweight, and drug abuse (Wilkinson & Pickett 2009).

  59. Reading: An Anarchism That is Not Anarchism: Notes toward a Critique of Anarchist Imperialism now. Thanks for this, troll!

    • roger nowosielski

      Yes, it’s a great read, a must read! After you’re done, perhaps you can join the conversation concerning the wars of liberation and South America in particular, about which subjects there seems to be a considerable difference of opinion.

      And thanks for not deserting the ship. We need to build up traffic like never before in order to convince everyone that we can make it, that it’s all up to us..

    • hiya Cindy – I tried to provide ‘strong’ arguments for Roger’s position in his original piece.

      • roger nowosielski

        Yes, you definitely have. And now you’re presenting counterarguments.

        Which is precisely how it should be!

  60. roger nowosielski

    Concerning troll’s comment re: an article in the new Journal of Practical Ethics, downloadable as a pdf, “Associative Duties And the Ethics Of Killing In War”:

    Two problems with the subject article:

    (1) “Many of us believe that pacifism is mistaken. Thus, warfare, composed though it is of killing and maiming, can sometimes be justified.” (p.3)

    Presumes that pacifism and warfare are mutually exclusive categories (as though there was nothing in between?)

    (2) “This paper proposes one strand in an alternative solution—one that affirms the high-threshold view of liability to be killed, and therefore concedes that the rights respecting war is an unattainable ideal, but maintains that warfare can nonetheless sometimes be justified. There are as many different approaches to this task as there are competing values, whose realisation might sometimes require the use of lethal force. But in this paper I focus on one class of widely neglected reasons. Most of us share a number of morally important relationships with those closest to us—our family, friends, and other loved ones. Combatants enjoy similarly significant relationships with their comrades-in-arms. When aggressors attack, they threaten those with whom we share these relationships—our associates. Sometimes we can protect our associates only if we fight and kill. We have duties to protect our associates, grounded in the value of these special relationships. Our armed forces are the executors of those duties. When they fight, those duties may clash with the rights that they must violate to win the war. In some cases, the associative duties to protect can override those rights, thus rendering some acts of killing all things considered justified. I call this the Associativist Account of (part of) what justifies killing in war.” (p.5)

    The extension of a right to self-defense may be said to be legitimately extended in special circumstances and contexts — e.g., when your home is broken into and the life of every member of the family is threatened (Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood scenario). The author, however, extends the right to self-defense to all contexts, which is to say, indiscriminately — so as to form a category of what he calls “associative duties” (or rights) — and this move is highly problematic.

    In addition, he seems to ascribe privileged status which comes with moral relationships with our significant others even to “our comrades-in-arms,” all the while ignoring the circumstances which had brought all these people together, and this move, too, is highly problematic — akin to elevating the mere herd instinct in us to the level of a bona fide moral relationship with our significant others.

    • “Many of us believe that pacifism is mistaken. Thus, warfare, composed though it is of killing and maiming, can sometimes be justified.” (p.3)

      I think it is justifiable to kill people who believe pacifism is mistaken.

      • LOL. I’m just re-reading (for the nth time) Douglas Adams’s Life, The Universe And Everything, in which he relates the tale of the Silastic Armorfiends of Striterax (the name of their species; the name of their armed forces was even more violent), the most bellicose race ever to inhabit the galaxy. Adams says that the best way to deal with an Armorfiend was to lock him in a room by himself, because then he would beat himself up. The Armorfiends eventually exhausted the possibilities of fighting each other and their neighbours so thoroughly that they built a supercomputer and told it to design the ultimate weapon. This turned out, inevitably, to be a bomb that could destroy the universe, which so shocked the computer that it sabotaged its own work. The Armorfiends, on discovering they’d been deceived, destroyed the computer and then found another way to destroy themselves, much to the relief of the rest of the galaxy.

        • haha! Great stuff! I’ve forgotten enough details that it’s probably time to reread the whole series from the beginning again. Have you tried the new one yet? I finished it not long ago. It is hilarious! I am sure you’ll love it.

  61. roger nowosielski

    “Roger – I have not given up on direct action within the heart of the beast. I cannot foresee a situation in which I would act to support a transitional socialist government here. Further, regardless of the possible developing necessity of a strategy of violent struggle, I stand opposed to such an approach.”

    I keep on drawing a blank when it comes to “direct action” while in the lion’s den. I wouldn’t even know where to begin. Any ideas?

    As regards the other aspect of your comment, two points come to mind. First, what exactly are your objections to supporting a “transitional socialist government” other than objections to socialism in general? Was the nationalization of the oil industry such a bad deal in the Venezuela case, or the land reforms when it came to Guatemala and Ecuador? And what’s objectionable, really, about giving the indigenous peoples a voice in their government, a voice they’ve been denied thus far?

    And second, concerning “violent struggle,” don’t wars of liberation or anti-colonial wars constitute a significant exception? It was Fanon, I believe, who said that violence is a term that’s conveniently reserved to characterize the behavior of all those who take a stand against oppression and the status quo, whereas whenever it comes to the state’s means of control to justify oppression by means of a legal-juridical system, we speak only of force.

    Besides, why associate the unfolding Bolivarian Revolution with violent
    struggle at all? I believe that Chavez, and similarly inspired leaders of a
    handful of the South American states who had followed Chavez’s lead, had come to power honestly, by democratic processes and populist appeal. If there was any violence thus far, in terms of the attempted coups and so forth, it had emanated from the reactionary elements which were opposed to any kind of reform. So unless I’m completely misreading the South American situation, there hadn’t been any “violent struggle” to speak of with respect to the events which had either precipitated the Bolivarian Revolution or those which followed. Which isn’t to say we know what’s going to happen in the future; that’s anyone’s guess.

    Also, I don’t believe you have responded to my thoughts as to why I regard the South American situation as a fluid one. Do you agree with my analysis and if not, why not?

  62. Some examples of direct action:

    welcome the stranger
    succor the widow
    visit the prisoner
    feed the hungry

    nurture the anarchist

    …what exactly are your objections to supporting a “transitional socialist government” other than objections to socialism in general?

    What class would you put in charge of this government, here in the US?

    It was Fanon, I believe, who said that violence is a term that’s conveniently reserved to characterize the behavior of all those who take a stand against oppression and the status quo, whereas whenever it comes to the state’s means of control to justify oppression by means of a legal-juridical system, we speak only of force.

    Who’s ‘we’…this was not accurate even in Fanon’s day. State violence has long been a object of analysis among anarchists.

    …why associate the unfolding Bolivarian Revolution with violent struggle at all?

    MR, your chosen ‘representative’ of the Bolivarians, has proposed that the use of violence could be a means to bring down the US government.

    Also, I don’t believe you have responded to my thoughts as to why I regard the South American situation as a fluid one. Do you agree with my analysis and if not, why not?

    I still miss your point. Institutions – economic, political, educational, etc – change; their complex interpenetration seems to assure this. Things aren’t static, frozen in place, even in the lion’s den. If capitalism is plagued with lethal contradictions, when its institutions run out of room to bob and weave, won’t there be plenty of fluidity all over the place? How is this unique to SA?

  63. Rob,

    I know a place; it’s been dormant for a while but perhaps worth re-animating? What do you think?

    • roger nowosielski

      But it’s not just the Politics section. It looks as though the whole of BC is going through a moratorium. Can it be just the Disqus?

      I know that change is difficult for some people,but still …

      A vigilant tending of the Fresh Comments section might do the trick, so why not do it? Unless the parent company wanted to unload the BC branch all along and couldn’t think of a better way to do so!

      • I agree: all of BC seems to be suffering, and things would be better if the old “Fresh Comments” were restored.

    • Let’s give it a go.
      I’ll club people over the head while you prepare the cages. 😉

      • Waits at the door of the new place with a few mini vodka bottles stashed in her pockets in case the drinks are steeply priced.

    • Oh? Where, pray tell?

  64. Everything that is wrong with the modern world. Sickness. Sorry, I have parents, children, friends, coworkers, and to see this image on the cover page of a site I write for doesn’t sit well. The staff appears reduced, perhaps overworked. Friends is fine, same-sex marriage is tolerable, but the photo (below) just ticked me off.

    • roger nowosielski

      If that’s your idea of stirring people up, John, I don’t blame you.

    • I agree. Image over intimacy and rampant narcissistic self-focus are two grave sicknesses of this modern capitalist culture. Those fellows are clearly into form rather than substance. Talk about objectification of bodies.

      • roger nowosielski

        So Cindy. Do you have any time for internet outside your recent move, since it’s still incomplete?

        The reason I’m asking, if we won’t do anything to energize the new BC, no one will.

        • I have time on most days. I have to go back to NJ soon where the work is piling up. That is when I will be busy in the all day long sense. Now is a pretty good time. So, here I am.

          • roger nowosielski

            Well, I think the topics we’re discussing are important, and there is a significant difference of opinion, even among all of us who are on the right track, more or less, and mean well. That’s why your input would be important, aside from energizing this site.

            The way I look at it, now is the critical time. Not only are the BC regulars on indefinite sabbatical leave (perhaps never to return, but let’s hope not); even the comments editors, Chris and Rob, appear to have thrown in the towel as they’re talking about alternative sites. So it’s up to us to keep the fires burning.

            I’ll shoot a group email to this effect, to bring folks in, but just wanted to let you know what’s at stake.

            Don’t forget … you’re sort of responsible for me. It was your pro-active participation on BC that had drawn me in in the first place and, eventually, led to my intellectual development along the radical lines … so I’m not letting you off the hook.

          • Roger, I believe actual disagreement in this thread over events in SA is primarily in your (and by extension MR’s) mind. Perhaps it would help if you stated clearly what you two think people like Anarcissie should do – start a food-not-bombs in Caracas?. Your ‘maintain an open mind’ seems lame and inappropriately directed.

          • I thought we’d all decided not to use this nested reply thingamabooby?

          • roger nowosielski

            Neither troll’s prompt nor my response to it move the discussion forward, which is why a nested reply doesn’t derail the thread, I should think.

          • lol great word…”thingamabooby”…love it!

          • roger nowosielski

            I wasn’t critiquing Anarcissie, let alone trying to tell her what she ought to do either in US or in Caracas as per my last communication with her, both in this forum and in private.

            As to “maintaining an open mind,” it does tie in, however indirectly, with the actual disagreement, which isn’t just in my mind, as per, e.g., your recently stated objection to a “transitional socialist government.”

            A response to your recent post is forthcoming shortly.

          • Roger, when you formulate your response please note that I said nothing about socialism in SA in my comment. I referred to a socialist government in the US.

            Are you now advocating such based on the SA experience?

          • roger nowosielski

            I must have misread it then. Sorry.

          • A I said, I think you ans your silent partner are over zealous.

          • roger nowosielski

            Can’t speak for M. As for me, perhaps you’re right as I’m beginning to view the geopolitical situation as still under the specter of post-colonialism

    • Don’t feel too bad, John. Most days I feel like this (at least once):

  65. the proletariat…the peasants…the indigenous…(and I would argue the capitalists) – historically, each group posses a ‘special knowledge’ used to justify basing a socialist government on its interests.

    Where and what is such a knowledge in the US, today?

  66. Considering how long gay erotica has been around, Mr Lake the alleged liberal is once again blowing hot air

    • His head has probably exploded a couple of times today.

    • As an individual without “special interest” or clandestine motive, I find my opinions are consistent with classic liberal thinking. But I don’t feel obliged to maintain the liberal policy, when I disagree.
      Here in the twenty-first century, some so-called liberals actually are staunchly opposed to Edward Snowden and his efforts to maintain our freedoms.
      I know the president has done a great and liberal service in his support of gay marriage and ‘love who you love’ in general. Since I think he has overdone it, gone way overboard, I shall do my part to offset his enthusiasm.
      Really that photo looks right out of a backstreet bookstore where most folks wouldn’t go.
      Also I apologize for taking advantage of the option to include photos with comments. In the future, I will avoid that pitfall.

      • roger nowosielski

        Why should you, John, since a picture, as they say, is worth …?

        And btw, keep on posting both comments and articles. I’m glad you’re not a quitter.

        • Thanks for the encouragement, Roger.

          • roger nowosielski

            We Are The World, John, don’t you forget it!

          • wonderful video, roger

          • You seem to have a wide range of interests, although your writing here doesn’t always reflect that. The poor people of Haiti…. I remember sitting before the television —- every few minutes I’d break down and bawl my eyes out. Odd to see Michael Jackson sharing the screen with Barbara Streisand, and so many more. I think we could use considerably more oversight of charities. Actually I conflict with the anarchist view regarding government intervention, in that I think more oversight and regulation is called for.

          • One voluntary organization can examine another.

          • A voluntary organization just adds complexity. In theory we should be able to trust and rely upon the government and affiliated agencies. But that’s so last century.

          • …a pleasant fantasy

          • roger nowosielski

            Besides, NGOs are just a screen for the government, to conceal from view its never-ceasing imperialistic outreach, just like the trading companies from the mercantile era.

            But the cover’s been blown, and even NGOs are not (to be) trusted.

          • Particularly those recognized by governments.

          • roger nowosielski

            Official recognition would be like shooting oneself in the foot. Besides, how would they get their funding otherwise? — and I’m not talking about mickey-mouse operations, especially those which “function” oversees.

            FNB obviously is not one of them (not an NGO) — or is it a NGO?

            Btw, Anarcissie made some astute comment about similar kind of “outreach” in the academic arena — concerning world hunger — on a CT thread; and, believe it or not, there are some critical papers (from academia) which question the motivation behind such projects.

            Will import the appropriate link(s) shortly.

          • McHenry skated perilously close to respectability a few years ago – came into unresolved conflict with some radical anarchists here in Taos Town, but his recent string of confrontations with authorities seem to have rejuvenated him.

          • roger nowosielski

            Who’s McHenry?

            In any event, here’s the thread, ASAP, and here are the links:

            (1) “The Ideology of Philanthropy”

            (2) “How Business Schools got to be the way they are”

            Also notice how shortly thereafter, the thread had miraculously died out.

          • Mchenry – a remaining active founder of FNB

            thanks for the links; I’ll check them out.

          • Good grief! What does the death of that thread say about the CT crew? Anarcissie the Show-stopper.

          • roger nowosielski

            Or the Dragon Slayer.

            Which is one reason I can’t connect with most of those guys. And those who are still worth saving, I’ll import them here.

          • roger nowosielski

            Sorry. Got you, the FNB guy!

          • Well, a government adds complexity, too. Given that governments are based on coercive social force and a class system, the interests of the governing and the governed will differ in important respects. Some will have more power than others; this is a situation in which some, those with less power, will have little reason to trust the others, those with more power, since a major interest of the latter will be to retain and expand their power. Applied to charities, one might expect to observe a regulatory emphasis on support of the existing state, bureaucratic correctness, job-seeking, use of the charity for propaganda and advertising, and so on. And this is what we do observe.

          • I only add that government oversight of charities could in the best case scenario be legitimate, with those in power having developed a belief that they should work to educate and benefit those with little power or
            even dependency. A politician well raised and well-schooled is the politician that society needs.
            Secondarily, even a profiteering politician needs to create an appearance of concern and sympathize. So it is in modern democracies.
            Unfortunately today in America it has become impossible for any citizen, even one well connected, to interpret the workings of the government and lawmakers. We have evolved to that extent.

            One phase of this invisibility involves current propaganda, more sophisticated and all-encompassing than in the past.
            Elite and educated individuals can alter documents, hide money, and their influence is inescapable. We have only a few news sources to provide information, and celebrity newscasters are fair game.
            For example:
            The gun lobby is not restricted to hand guns for Americans.
            They are present every time we provide weapons to a nation. So they influence the media to tell us that the ‘rebels’ are well intended and worthy of receiving weapons, ammunition, related items. We can only
            move with the current, and hope for good to prevail.

            One thread of hope for the whole of society lies with men like Julian Assange, and Edward Snowden. Yet even as we speak, the social networks are being adulterated, and participation is being discouraged. (I don’t mean BC. But in Facebook, it’s obvious.)

  67. (…should have asked: where and what are such knowledges in the US, today? Clearly, the financial capitalists have socialized the current government based on their interests – are there alternatives?)

  68. roger nowosielski

    I’m reading a chapter from The Wretched …, “The Pitfalls of National Consciousness,” which in a way addresses this question by contrasting the bourgeoisie of the developed vs. the young, undeveloped nations — precisely in terms of certain skills, especially those which were developed by that class in the early stages of the Industrial Revolution, concerning innovation, etc, skills which are in dire need in the “Third World” and which are lacking. The “young” bourgeoisie comes in at the tail end, as it were, of the process — showing all the symptoms of stagnation and old age without having gone the entire gamut, and without there being anything to show for it.

    Which is one important reason why we must view, say, SA’s situation with an entirely different eye.

    • Roger, I’m reminded, for no particular post-colonial reason, of David Caute’s Decline of the West, a book from my misspent yute that you might ‘enjoy’.

  69. I agree with Jet’s comment…somewhere above or below. Has anyone seen a disqus site with an equivalent to bc’s old fresh-comments?

  70. I just got 9 e-mails saying I’d gotten responses to a comment I posted, not only couldn’t I find my original comment, without finally discovering “load more comments” but I haven’t been able to find a single response… in fact, I fear I will now be plagued with e-mails every single time someone posts a comment here whether it’s a response or not.
    This sucks kids, call me when you get it straightened out.
    A comment above mine was 4 days old, one below was 4 hours old. How the hell do you follow anything here?

  71. Okay, I just tried the “newest” button above to sort the comments, fool that I am…
    In order of appearance…
    4 minutes ago
    2 hours ago
    2 minutes ago
    21 hours ago
    6 hours ago
    a day ago
    a day ago
    18 hours ago
    You people can’t be serious!
    My AdSense/Google revenue from ads on my blogsites is actually going up while my articles at BC have fallen to near nonexistence and this HAS to be the reason why.

    • That confirms my seat-of-the-pants conclusion.

      BC is really screwed up. And unreadable.

      • roger nowosielski

        Give it time. Perhaps the BC editors will intervene on our behalf to make the necessary changes.

      • roger nowosielski

        Besides, while the overall BC traffic was next to nil, I and few others have managed to energize this thread beyond my wildest dreams. So yes, if we all chip in, we can make it happen.

  72. roger nowosielski

    Exactly, the Fresh Comments section is shits. And nobody gives a damn.

    And we should all take Jet’s advice and abandon the nested replies altogether: they’re useless. Comments should be numbered for easy reference, and that would eliminate most of the headaches. But nobody seems to have any pull with the parent company.

  73. roger nowosielski

    And what’s with this postmortem “Writer of the Week” award for El Bicho?

    Is it a “thank you” for job well done after being let go — like a gold watch after years of honorable service?

  74. Boingboing claims to be installing a new and different comments and discussion system — I think. (Different from Disqus, which seemed to still be in effect there last time I looked.)

  75. roger nowosielski

    This thread has proven thus far to be a chuck-full of questions and ideas, and I believe Fanon’s chapter, “The Pitfalls of National Consciousness,” provides some of the answers. So let’s start with the traditional distinction between violence and force, and I’m citing here from An Anarchism that is not Anarchism . . . work:

    In what follows, we will trace the subtle thread which draws the two thinkers together, counterintuitively rendering Sorel’s antistate class consciousness compatible with Fanon’s antiracist national consciousness, opening up in the process an entire horizon that too often escapes contemporary anarchisms. The gesture that draws them together is suggested already in their hostility to institutionalization, a danger that exists as much within our movements as within the formal structures of the state and which as a result requires a more complex view. The precise route of this gesture is opened up by the peculiar distinction that Sorel introduces into the concept of violence, distinguishing the (bourgeois) “force” that upholds the state from the diametrically opposed (proletarian) ”violence” that destroys it: “the object of force is to impose a certain social order in which the minority governs, while violence tends to the destruction of that order.”

    This definition of the state as a structure of minority governance [the author continues] introduces two elements into our analysis: it both further specifies what it is we oppose in the state in terms of its content (the state as a structure
    of institutionalized inequality and minority governance) while simultaneously broadening the potential spheres in which this definition applies (by focusing on this content rather than on an abstract and universal antistatism or anti-institutionalism).
    page 28

    The closing remarks, presented here as though forming a separate paragraph, inform us of the author’s overriding perspective, which will deemphasize form while elevating the content (a healthy perspective, I think, and one which would place me on Anarcissie’s range of options, as an agnostic (with respect to the institution of statehood). As regards the Fanon excursion, blame it on footnote #37 on page 29.

    In any event, the author merely reiterates his general position as being opposed to any kind of “imperialism” as regards thinking, whether the subject matter is the different kinds of oppression or domination (all treated, and rationally so, as though belonging under one umbrella and therefore not entitled to a separate kind of handling) or our thinking ’bout statehood (or about socialism, for that matter) in general. It’s the content over the form argument.

    As I’ll proceed with my defense of the Bolivarian Revolution as deserving our utmost attention for the potentially fruitful experiment it may end up to be, and this time from Frantz Fanon’s unique vantage point, I’m providing a link to the full text of The Wretched . . ., a pdf file.

    I can’t implore you enough to start reading the subject chapter so we’ll all be on the same page. Fanon is a genius.

  76. As I’ll proceed with my defense of the Bolivarian Revolution as deserving our uttermost attention for the potentially fruitful experiment I regard it to be,

    Roger, have you found an argument that the Bolivarian Revolution should be ignored or its importance downplayed?

    and this time from Frantz Fanon’s vantage point, I’m providing a link to the full text of The Wretched . . .”, a pdf file. I can’t implore you enough to start reading the subject chapter so we’ll all be on the same page.

    For what it’s worth to your analysis, I’ve already pointed to Caute’s The Decline of the West, a critique of sorts (in literary format) of Fanon’s belief in the “efficacy and humanist value of violent counterassertion;” p.106 Franz Fanon

  77. Roger, keep in mind that a radical who writes, “Violence alone, perpetrated by the people, violence organized and guided by the leadership, provides the key for the masses to decipher social reality” has fallen into dialectical hell, imo.

  78. roger nowosielski

    Yes, I’ve already uploaded (though haven’t read it yet) Caute’s contribution to the Modern Masters series, and was gonna share it — so you beat me to the punch on this one; so the link is appreciated and is part of the commons now. (The Decline of the West, a novel, and not to be confused with Spengler’s, can’t be found on the net.)

    . . . “humanist value of violent counterassertion” . . . under all circumstances?

    As to “dialectical hell,” expound on your earlier critique of the method for not accurately representing the processes of “social change” and the movement of history: Action-reaction, push and shove, application of force to explain the mechanics of motion?

    An alternative context for the dialectical method: expressing the dynamics of the human mind, perhaps.

    The chapter on “The Pitfalls,” however, presents a different side of Fanon, in the role of an astute analyst of the colonized (and it doesn’t deal with the subject of violence directly). It merits a separate reading.

    • Roger, The book is in a library 5 miles from you.

      Holy Names University Library
      Cushing Library
      Oakland, CA 94619 United States

      I find this tool handy when looking for a book in a library somewhere:

      • Well, I see I looked up the wrong book. But still, will leave the post as the WorldCat link might be useful to someone.

        The Caute book is at:

        Berkeley Public Library
        Central Library
        Berkeley, CA 94704 United States

        • roger nowosielski

          Yes, I’ve run against that site, and it’s handy. But here in CA, I also have immediate access to a host of used book stores, and for the most part, it has always been my best bet.

  79. roger nowosielski

    to continue with the exposition . . .

    Fanon’s complex view concerning institutions (including that of the state), his assessment of their pluses and minuses, can be expounded as follows, and again I cite here from the Ciccariello-Maher’s paper:

    Fanon’s ontologization and globalization of Sorel’s class antagonism must be understood in this context [i.e., whereby the focus is on the content rather than on an abstract and universal antistatism or anti-institutionalism]. Once we do so, we can see that, while the terms have shifted, the fundamental egalitarianism remains, one which fears the corralling and domestication of the revolutionary energies of the masses. Whereas Sorel sought to cultivate proletarian identity against the institutionalized inequality of the bourgeois state, Fanon sought to cultivate first black and later national identity against the institutionalized inequalities of both white supremacy (on the domestic level) and European colonization and imperialism (on the international level). It is this opposition to minority rule that allows Fanon to be characterized, if not as an antistatist, then at least as an antiauthoritarian. 37 Both he and Sorel bring a powerful critique of institutionalized inequality in the state, but arguably even more crucially for our purposes, they provide the same within movement dynamics, demonstrating in their anxiety the perils of institutionalization of mass power and its corralling by leadership. In this, their complex positions on “anarchism” reveal sharp critiques of the dangers of institutions while their refusal to identify as such reveals their insistence on the need for institutions of some sort.

    Put differently, the approach of Sorel and Fanon — by privileging the content of institutions over their mere institutional form — leads to a view which is more about liberation from inequality than the literal elimination of institutions. (end of cited matter)

    “Liberation from inequality” becomes thus the overarching objective, rather than any blind, “imperialistic” rejection of all institutions simply because they are institutions. And if the inequality is institutionalized, as it usually is, then it must be fought by forging institutions in which it would not be.

    One may mention, in passing, that this view doesn’t diverge all that much from Anarcissie’s idea of working with(in) “the fringes and the interstices”; in fact, they’re quite compatible.

    Or to cite from the closing statement by David Caute on Fanon:

    Although his experiences, agonies and humiliations of his own life, undoubtedly “belong” to the black people, his social philosophy is available to black and white people alike. He denounced Europe’s record and Europe’s applied values in the period of capitalist imperialism, but he did so in terms of the concepts of the European revolutionary tradition. There are no total hiatuses in ideological development; each new movement has roots in the old. Fanon added to that tradition and enriched it. (106-7)

    • I can imagine a number of dystopic scenarios built on the liberation from inequality motif. Not my idea of a sound foundation – buttressing required for structures built on it or some additional rocks and re-bar needed in the initial pour

      attention attention – clean-up on the blood-lust aisle needed

      Your point that States should be evaluated based on their actions seems clear. I await your evaluation of the Bolivarians. I’ll be particularly interested in the method of your approach – sources and such.

      • roger nowosielski

        Perhaps we, as Westerners, and whites, fail to appreciate the (loaded) meaning that’s being vested in “equality” by the ex-colonials: to Fanon and followers, not to mention all the non-whites, it wasn’t any abstract idea (as expressed by the slogans of the French Revolution, e.g.) but a concrete and existential one: of being just another human among other humans.

        • Or perhaps it’s not as hard a concept to grok – going beyond ‘understand’ – as you imply. You’ll need to be careful with this loaded meaning when moving this concept around.

          • roger nowosielski

            It’s loaded for us, very real for them. And I don’t think we can understand Fanon and his works unless we interpret it so — as a movement from non-being to being.

            It would be interesting to compare Camus’ writings on the subject since he shared great deal with Fanon — the Battle of Algiers, thorough Europeanized, except for the race factor.

          • …movement from non-being to being

            Can’t argue that that’s not Fanon’s position as he makes clear in his earlier Black Skin White Masks. Again, this concept isn’t mysterious.

          • roger nowosielski

            Of course there’s nothing mysterious ’bout it, though all too often overlooked by the “imperialist,” Eurocentric view: one of the sub-themes of the Ciccariello-Maher’s paper.

          • I don’t know how to evaluate charges of racism against Venezuelan anarchists.

          • roger nowosielski

            I don’t believe any such accusation was made. The point rather is that the conception of equality in the abstract (and therefore removed from the particulars of the situation) that was brought to the table, a conception no doubt influenced by the anarchist thought at large, ignored those very particulars.

          • …leading to the (inadvertent or otherwise) support of neo-colonial goals…like the end of the current Venezuelan State.

            The paper is a piece of political propaganda.

  80. troll said: “What does the death of that thread say about the CT crew?”

    My sentiments exactly. Big turn off, right on that thread, for me.

  81. somehow my comment (as guest, below) got discombobulated

  82. roger nowosielski

    Like the kitty cat logo — the Tolstoy cat.

    Good ole times!

    • Isn’t that the cutest little pussycat? His friend, the dog, forgot to read the book “It’s A Dog Eat Cat World or How Dogs are Biologically Required to Behave. Subtitled: They Can’t Help It. Really, It’s Their Nature.

  83. I took a vacation from my usual nihilism to write the following, a partial response to Fanon. Actually, it’s a draft of the first section of something, which might be called ‘Order’. The next might be called ‘Force’ or ‘Violence’, but it hasn’t written itself yet, and may never.

    The following seems obvious:

    Human beings are necessarily social. They cannot survive as a species, and often cannot survive even temporarily as individuals, without social relations with other humans. The social life of humans requires a certain kind of order. This order is not a choice made by rational adult individuals in some kind of social contract; it is necessary and has been necessary before birth, before, even, the evolution of humans.

    The necessities of the human social order, while they may not be rigidly defined, must take a form which provides for certain relations and processes. Among these obviously are the engendering, gestation, birth, care, and education of children. Before the invention of externalized, mechanical forms of memory, it was also probably necessary to take care of the aged, who maintained the memory of the community. It is also evidently of considerable value to divide labor so that tasks tend to be performed by those best able to perform them. Among these tasks are the provision of food and other necessities, and the physical and psychic defense of the community, whether from natural forces, disease, wild animals, or other humans.

    Much of the necessary order may be provided for genetically, such as the intuitions and emotions which occur between mother and child. Others may be supplied by common sense, culture, tradition, aesthetics, reason, authority, or even accident. There is usually a good deal of overlap, so that humans in surviving communities find necessarily themselves in complex networks of affection and necessity.

    Again, this order is necessary. Human communities will either establish it or die.

    We can call the rules, customs, practices, and understandings which maintain this order ‘morals’ and the order which they specify ‘morality’ or ‘the moral realm’. As you can see, it is, one might say, a feminine moral realm, concerned with relationships, food, child care.

    Proponents of violence, or any other strategy, which is supposed to benefit the community, whether physically, spiritually, or politically, must answer this question: How does what I propose lead to the moral realm?

  84. Thanks for the kind words, Jet and Roger. I think the recognition is just a way to tweak Kurtz as we watches from afar

    • roger nowosielski

      Just calling it as I see it, gk, nothing to do with Mr. Kurtz. And to be honest, kind of missing the old fart, ornery and in-your-face as he was.

  85. roger nowosielski

    By way of partial response, let me make a number of correlated remarks, especially since there aren’t any takers:

    1 Though I understand the intent, there’s no need to distinguish between masculine and feminine virtues. If morality isn’t about human/social relationships – relationships with others as well as with oneself — then I don’t know what it is about. To cite from my Wittgenstein mentor, a moral man/woman has a love affair with herself.

    2 I’m happy you’re singling out qualities of affection and necessity as indispensable elements of a viable community. This move corresponds, roughly, to my continual stress (see past articles) on the concept of loyalty (which partakes of both the affective and the functional aspect) as the badly needed glue which holds human communities together. Interestingly, no one had picked up on this until now, though it’s never too late.

    3. In essence, you’re asking a foundational question which, for strategic or methodological reasons (since I’m a didactic kind of writer) I’d rather that it remain unanswered. Let it guide, instead, the spirit of the inquiry and hopefully culminate in its crowning achievement. To jump the gun at this point would be like asking “What is justice?” and providing a ready-made answer without going through the preliminaries, all the necessary steps and detours, or like revealing my idea of a mating net without making all the necessary moves that would get me there.

    3.1 Since we’re not, however, altogether in the dark as regards the question you’re posing but have an idea or two, let me take a stab at it, if I may:

    a) We already have a pretty good idea, at least some of us do, as to what constitutes a healthy moral development in individuals; we pretty much recognize a morally-minded/oriented person when we see one (and the same goes for a moral kind of stance) because we’re not strangers to moral language: it’s part of our natural language.

    b) Likewise with “moral” communities – such as the Christian communities of old, when persecuted by the Romans; or Mormon communities of today, which are known for tending to their own.

    c) It’s more difficult, of course, when it comes to human societies, and essentially, that’s what your question is about. But generally speaking, however, there are two distinct approaches to establishing “moral order” in the world. On the one hand, the Kingdom of God is already at hand: all one has to do is to act lovingly with respect to anything and everything in the world. And on this view of things, the primary locus of (r)evolutionary change resides within ourselves. Alternatively, or supplementing it perhaps, there is a paradigm whereby change may also come from without, by pressing the necessary social levers, which is to say, by creating an environment in which humans at large will be motivated to change, and radically so, in spite of themselves. And here, the idea of a classless society is but one example of a kind of environment that would promote the requisite kind of change and establish “moral order” in the universe.

    4. The idea of “moral order” emerging out of presumed acts of “violence,” as though the former were necessarily antithetical to the latter, is somewhat ill-put. Aren’t we already operating under the condition of sustained violence, violence by the state? So perhaps a more correct way of putting the question would be to ask whether “moral realm” can be maintained in spite of violence. And here, going by historical evidence, past or present, I think we must conclude that yes it can, that it forms, in fact, the most formidable line of defense against violence.

    5. Fanon’s stand on “violence” hasn’t as of yet been the subject of the discussion; and in this respect, I reserve my opinion until later. My contention thus far is that his uncanny understanding of the colonial and post-colonial state of mind and situation, his analytical prowess, are invaluable if we want to understand what’s happening in South America here and now.

    • A few notes on your comments, which will be most helpful in clarifying my analysis, should I manage to move forward with it.

      The purpose of defining a moral order is to establish what goals political activity (violent or otherwise) is about, and to provide a standard for evaluating them and the activities leading to them.

      I didn’t intend to bring in extra baggage with moral (except maybe in a sneaky, connotive way). I am defining moral as I please. The early Christians were not moral in terms of the morality I propose; the basis of their morality was the supposed word or intent of God, and they held the life (lives) of this world to be of little value (or so they professed). So also the moral system of the ancient Norse religion (for example). In this case, I am proposing a materialistic moral realm in order to provide a way of evaluating violence and other activities. By ‘materialistic’ I mean that a reasonable person could examine the world and understand what I am talking about without resort to gods, scriptures, visions, and so on, which are not available to everyone.

      As to feminine-masculine. I specifically wanted to draw attention to a divide in the mass culture of the people who read and write on web sites in English and Spanish, as I perceive it. (We ignore mass culture at our peril; it has important messages for us.) Sites specifically oriented to women are often about children, child care, education, relationships, feelings, health — I am sure everyone knows the drill. I wonder if I need to say what sites specifically oriented toward men are about. This has nothing to do with whether one individual or another is male or female or whether one set of qualities or concerns is more admirable than another. The problem of the feminine qualities and concerns which I want to draw attention to is that they often trivialized, derided, overlooked or forgotten, whereas (as I point out in what I wrote) many of the ‘feminine’ concerns are actually central to life.

      Indeed, we are acting under conditions of violence, but I feel that before we can analyze those conditions or imagine how to deal with them, we will need some kind of compass or framework — at least if we are going to communicate with one another outside of romantic slogans. So I have tried to begin at a kind of beginning.

  86. “humanist value of violent counterassertion” . . . under all circumstances?

    It’s reasonable to think that Fanon saw his prescriptions as historically determined.

    …expound on your earlier critique of the method for not accurately representing the processes of “social change” and the movement of history

    (My chosen word was ‘errant’)

    A difficult exposition for minds trained to introduce struggle everywhere; one can derive motivation from the sure knowledge that, by its own logic, the dialectical method with its ‘gotcha moments’ and its attendant language of (violent) force required to explain (social) movement must be supersedable.

    (…so I spend a lot of time in absurd spaces [some of them online] looking for the communicative content of romantic slogans and the like – I just know that anti-thesis must be laying around here somewhere.)

  87. From the header I see that we now have 200 comments, but I have no idea where the newest comments apply. So I have to read the whole thing, perhaps skipping comments because of age. This is progress?

    • roger nowosielski

      Perhaps Anarcissie might help, as she is (has been?) a frequent contributor to (which seems to operate on the exact same platform as the new BC).

      • I know no more about Disqus than any of you. I have the idea (speculating here) that the program changes over time, and that it is probably configurable by the site manager, which would mean that its appearance and behavior would vary from site to site.

      Here’s an excellent reason to dump disqus…
      We no longer have to log into BC to read comments, since they’re now e-mailed to us, that means less traffic and MUCH FEWER AD CLICKS!
      consider that.
      With comments coming to us, we’re less likely to log onto BC and get interested in other articles that interest us. Without a fresh comments page, fewer people see a topic that they might otherwise have ignored, or that vanished because it was more that a few days old.
      consider that.
      by the way, the e-mails on topics I’ve commented on are nearly impossible to unsubscribe from without unsubscribing from the whole thing-which I’m tempted to do to keep my in box from getting clogged.

      • roger nowosielski

        Are you referring to emails which come under the rubric of “Disqus Digest,” Jet? And if so, aren’t those emails restricted only to responses to your own previous posts?

        • Nope, I get an e-mail for every single comment made on this thread, I’ve gone into options and it doesn’t seem to matter. The point is with comments coming to me instead of me coming to the comments, I barely have to visit BC at all, where before I’d go straight to Fresh Comments, and notice a comment on a months-old article that I’d somehow missed and read it.

          If everyone did that and gave up hassling with comments out of order or initial confusion and fuss of even trying to put in a first comment, BC is going to have a hell of a lot less traffic… if they haven’t already.

          I’m not talking initial traffic, I’m talking repeat visits.

          I’ll give you an example… I read Google News and every-so-often a headline from interests me, but every time I click on one, I have to endure a full page ad before I get to the article. After a while I went in to options and now Google doesn’t display Forbes articles on my news page. Same thing with BC, after the trouble of even finding an article, especially if it’s more than a week old, and going through the hoops, newcomers are going to say, BC just isn’t worth the hassle.

          The problem with BC’s higher-ups is they know the system and menus and are used to their confusing quirks and don’t understand how someone like me can’t figure them out…

          …well kids there are a lot of idiots like me, and unless they simplify and make it easier to navigate, they’re going to lose a lot of regular readers and a ton of ad revenue.

          • roger nowosielski

            They seem to have accomplished that already — lost much if not most of the readership (if the farce of what passes for “Fresh Comments” section is any indication).

            As to the rest of your comment, I have to think about it to make certain I understand it.

  88. Prof – the only way I am able to follow the comments on these threads is by using an email account which I set up for the purpose where they appear in order for those threads that I subscribe to.

    I don’t know the ins-and-outs of disqus or whether its features couldn’t be combined in a more bc compatible way than is currently the case.

  89. roger nowosielski

    1. Yes, I did jump the gun. We can’t ignore mass culture and its effects, or critical differences across cultures and languages (e.g., English vs. Spanish); so as you said, the emphasis on the so-called “feminine” values as being central to life is well taken and needs to be hammered in if only to offset the overwhelming influence of mass culture.

    2. Perhaps I shouldn’t have used early Christian communities as an example, precisely because, as you say, “they held the life (lives) of this world to be of little value” under the conditions in which they found themselves. The ascetic, moral/religious community such as the Essenes is a better example.

    3. I don’t see why “resort[ing] to gods, scriptures, visions, and so on, which are not available to everyone” necessarily disqualifies a community from being a moral community in the requisite materialistic sense you’re forging. By “moral
    community” I simply mean a community that adheres to a certain set of
    life-sustaining values — charity, mutual aid and support, nurturing, tending to and fending for its young and old, et cetera – in short, “materialistic” values in the best sense of the word. So why should it matter whether or not those values, in addition to having been arrived as a result of rational (pragmatic?moral?) thinking, are reinforced besides by appeals to texts such as Wisdom literature, even if those texts are regarded by some as sacred? Reinforcement of the good is always good, is it not so? And even if “besides” isn’t necessarily the operative term here, so what? The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

    3.1 But if demythologizing morality is something we must, why not simply reduce it to the “Do Unto Others” principle, and that’s regardless of the source, or Kant’s categorical imperative (concerning moral equivalence of persons)?

    3.2 One would want to make a distinction between “life-sustaining” values and the value of mere survival. Morality may have evolved from instinct, but it had surely gone beyond espousing “survival” as the overarching objective, and had come to embrace, among other things, such values as quality of life, quality of our relationships with others and the planet, and so forth. (I have argued to this effect and developed this idea here, here and here.) Consequently, if we are to regard the so-called “biological imperative” as though constituting a moral imperative as well, we had better come equipped with another first premise: namely, that humanity (the species, that is) is worth preserving in terms of the very (moral) standards we had set for ourselves. And that would involve what – judging ourselves by some standard that is independent of us? Is such a thing possible at all? I wonder. In any case, in the absence of some such first premise or presupposition, there’s no more reason to ascribe any value to “biological imperative” than it would be to the fact that every species, even the cockroach, is “programmed” to survive.

    There’s still a comment, forthcoming, concerning “the moral order,” this time functioning as a standard – certainly the high point of your remark and a kind of switch – and what it possibly entails.

    • In regard to (3): I am not universalizing or the moral order that I am proposing. How people derive the moral order isn’t important for my purpose. I am simply pointing out that they must do certain things to survive as a community and often as individuals. I then name these things ‘morals’ or ‘the moral order’. My view is materialistic* so that we can agree or disagree with it by means of examining the world and reasoning about our findings. It does not matter to me what Kant thought of the matter. (The idea of trying to universalize everything one does is likely to give me a headache.) As for quality of life, before we have quality of life we have to have life itself, that is, at least survival. This is basic stuff.

      *The same for most observers most of the time.

      If humanity, or at least one’s community, is not worth preserving, then there is no rational basis for any political action but entertainment, a standard which is likely to be too indeterminate for this sort of analysis.

      I think cockroaches are admirable, even if they have been made the subject of derisive Mexican songs and horror stories by German-Czech-Jewish existentialists, as long as they stay out of my drawers (in both senses). I have heard that they are much tougher biologically and genetically than we are, and can thrive in strong radiation, so we may have to count on them to carry on multicellular life in the future. They are not much on community, though, as far as I know, beyond being, like the rats and the mice, our faithful and enduring companions.

      • As in, for example, ‘it is immoral in many communities to hoard accumulated wealth’?

        • And the epitome of morality in others. I suppose that judgement might have to do with a perception of the negative (or positive) survival value of hoarding, although I imagine other feelings and ideas would likely come into play.

          • The moral order you describe is ‘pre-judgemental’?

          • roger nowosielski

            Apt characterization, I suppose. But is it “pre-judgmental” because it’s simply reflective of the perceived needs of a particular community?

          • No, a moral order is a framework for making judgements. I want to posit a sort of minimal, stripped-down moral order which most people can understand and work out for themselves, even if they don’t agree with it. Then I can use it to evaluate revolutionary violence or other related political activities.

            Having hoarders in a community might turn out to be a good thing in times of shortage, since the hoarders might then sell or give away some of their hoards (or be expropriated), thus reducing the severity of the crisis. Of course hoarding, if not perfectly secretive, tends to exacerbate social tensions, and that might lessen the community’s ability to deal with the crisis. I don’t know; I haven’t studied the subject since I read about Joseph interpreting Pharaoh’s dream of the seven fat and seven lean cows (Genesis 41), in which a tax-supported state program is used to acquire food reserves and later sell them — a kind of hoarding.

          • roger nowosielski

            I thought all along that’s what you had in mind (since your last posting), which is why I referred to this move as a kind of switch (from the earlier articulated conception, whereby you asked whether and/or how a revolutionary activity, which may entail some recourse to “violence” lead to an eventual “moral order”). The way you’re expressing it now, this is the right framework and the right kind of question!

            But I’ll continue with the implications on top (shortly), in the interest of moving the discussion forward.

          • The moral order you describe is ‘pre-judgemental’?

            No, a moral order is a framework for making judgements.

            I communicate poorly…something that I’ll meditate on while in the wilderness for the next couple of days.

          • roger nowosielski

            There’s a kind of delicious circularity here, if that’s the right word — but I think the meaning is: being able to make concrete (and discreet), necessarily moral (for how they could not be “moral”?) judgments — about politics, contemplated or actual courses, or programs, of action, et cetera — in terms of :”high-level” (?) primitive? foundational? moral concepts?

            Am I close? And if not, or even if so, no wonder “troll” was puzzled!

          • In order to evaluate political acts, we need a framework or ruler to measure them by. (I define politics as the theory and practice of whose will and interests shall prevail in a community.) Since politics is communal, there must be a community for it to operate in. That is, the community and its constituents must be able to live; that is the fundamental condition for there to be any kind of politics. Political practices which do not permit the community to live terminate themselves, so they are not of interest to us (except perhaps as entertainments of the tragic or horror genres).

            It is evident that certain practices are required to sustain the individual and communal life of human beings. if we cast these practices as injunctions or principles, we can call them ‘morals’. The whole set necessary to maintain the life of the community can be called a ‘moral order’. The moral order derives its validity from the value of the lives of the community and its constituents, to which it is necessary.

            The value of the lives of the community and its constituents is assumed as an axiom.

          • roger nowosielski

            Preliminary remarks on top, with real-life examples to follow.

      • roger nowosielski

        “If humanity, or at least one’s community, is not worth preserving, then there is no rational basis for any political action but entertainment, a standard which is likely to be too indeterminate for this sort of analysis.”

        True, but this isn’t to say that every community is worth preserving. Even if all moral values, on your schema, derive from life (and therefore are predicated on survival)! Was a fascist community, the Nazi Germany, for instance, worth preserving? And if the answer is no (and most would agree that the world would have been better off without the Third Reich), then it follows that we must have some general idea or ideas on the basis of which we can make such decisions, a general enough idea, to say the least, as to what moral life (of an individual or of a community) must be like, however loosely derived criteria. And insofar as the “Do Unto Others” principle kind of captures a desirable kind of stance with respect to everything there is, it’s one useful criterion; and it doesn’t matter whether it was Kant who had articulated it or Jesus Christ.

        Does this entail “universalizing”? To an extent, I suppose, in that all terms of ordinary language are public, if we are to understand one another, that is (which, doesn’t negate a privatized use of certain concepts, as per Iris Murdoch, for instance, in “The Idea of Perfection”).

        Again, I can’t stress enough that there is such a thing as moral language (which is part of ordinary language), and that it can serve as a guide — even to a “materialist” ethics and empirical verification.

        On a side note, it would appear that on your view, a moral way/order derives from the value you place on life as its primary source, and that may well be on the right track.

        A celebration of life, then, but in what capacity? As a miracle, an evolutionary fact? Perhaps it doesn’t matter.

        • Obviously, if a community can’t keep itself alive, its politics are not going to matter (in a worldly, materialistic sense; the gods may be pleased with it, or something. I am not considering the gods at this time.)

          If you say something like ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,’ some snarky Irishman is sure to come along and say, ‘Do not unto others as you would have them do unto you; tastes differ.’ On a more serious note in the same scale, I do not wish to be treated either as a mother or a child, yet mothers and their children and the relations between them are crucial to the life of the people. They are the sun around which human social life revolves, even if we wish to conduct our sun-worship from afar or get someone else to do it for us. I think this is just an obvious, undeniable, material fact.

          The Nazis were an extreme example of the kind of thinking I am trying to avoid — a bunch of abstractions legitimizing all kinds of violence in the name of abstruse ends like ‘race purity’ which have no material meaning and nothing to do with actual life.

      • roger nowosielski

        Parts of the following seems to depict, more or less, your notion of “moral order” (sensibility?) as springing from celebration/veneration of life:

        An existential faith, then, is a creed or philosophy with a distinctive sensibility infused into it. Such a faith–subject to direct intellectual engagement on some registers, to tactics of modest intervention on others, and perhaps immune to further work in some respects–forms a qualitative assemblage in which the partially fused elements enter into regular communication. That suggests, or so I think, that cultivation of an ethical sensibility is important to political thinking and theory, to the micropolitics of everyday life, and to the macropolitics of an entire state.

        . . . the contestable ontology of immanent naturalism has something positive to offer political theory. An immanent naturalist does not ground morality in the commands of a god, or the “apodictic recognition” that morality takes the form of law projected by Kant, or the idea of a fictive contract. Immanent naturalists such as, variously, Epicurus, Lucretius, Spinoza, Nietzsche, Foucault, and Deleuze ground ethics in the first instance in an attachment to the world or a gratitude for being that includes and exceeds the identities infused into them. We do not ask, in the first instance, why we should be moral. We ask, in the first instance, how to enliven and cultivate care for an abundance of life over identity that already infuses us to some degree. Such care, if you are lucky, is simmering to some degree, available for further work. Ours is an ethic of inspiration, attraction, and cultivation rather than a morality of command. We further conclude, perhaps to the dismay of some analytic philosophers, that argument is relevant to philosophy and ethics but insufficient to them. For political argument always has a porous structure, and it is inflected this way or that according to the sensibility infused into it by those who present it and those who receive it.

        We share something with theo-teleological perspectives in these respects. They, too, criticize the sufficiency of argument and the crudeness of moralities of command. One place where we differ with the teleological tradition, however, is in the image of time we embrace. We are immanent naturalists because we think the whole is open to some degree, that we participate in a world of becoming set on multiple tiers of time, that each tier periodically collides or coalesces with modes of becoming on other tiers, and that these collisions and collusions sometimes propel new and unpredictable events and entities into natural and cultural history.

        Terms of note:
        (i) existential faith
        (ii) immanent naturalism
        (iii) (cultivation of) ethical sensibility
        (iv) ethics of command vs. ethics of cultivation
        (v) theo-teleological perspective

  90. I am intently following Anarcissie’s dialogue with Roger. The thread of feminine relationship with life is extremely pertinent, imo. It would do men a good to comprehend that masculine figgurings were not (by cultural design) inclusive of ‘the feminine’ . Men were doing “men thinking” through time. One does not see, even with young modern female anarchists a satisfaction that even anarchist men, in general, “get it”. Not that no men do. These are generalizations, for what they are worth.

    We are different–women. And we have something that is not typically indoctrinated into the male of contemporary capitalist culture (or we have mostly avoided what has been, not being male). I am not speaking about all women. Only maybe ‘feminist’ women. Women of other views have much to offer, but sadly, the bulk I have in mind have (whether temporarily, partially, wholly, or permanently) been seriously co-opted to admire and serve patriarchal values unless they identify with some sort of feminism (by whatever name–maybe at some point the ‘name’ might end up just being disillusionment).

    Mothers feed children without competition or payback required. This is the basis for a different economy and a different way of being. That needs to be included in any new proposition, lest we continue to be grounded in male domination.

    • Cindy, does reciprocity, so important to recent game-theoretic anarchist thinking, fit into this feminine ‘zone’ as you picture it?

      • I am interested to read about recent game theory in anarchistic thought. I will have a look at that. But in the meantime, sure, I would think reciprocity would have to figure in.

        (Oh, and, troll, if you think of anything that would be good to read, let me know. Meantime, I will find some stuff.)

        • The work focuses around questions of how cooperation is possible, could have developed, etc. Tit-for-tat strategy.

    • I think most men (who think about it at all) understand the necessity of the materialistic moral order I’ve been writing about — it is reasonable enough to note that if a community does not conduct the business of living, it must die. They may not want to do the work, but they want somebody to do it.

  91. roger nowosielski

    It’s time to move the discussion forward. Before we do that, however, it’s necessary to recap some of the conversations which had brought us to this point in order to get a clear sense of where we are and where we’re going.

    There are two reasons for this rather unexpected but badly needed detour. The first is technical in nature: the present BC platform doesn’t support a straightforward, linear, chronologically-ordered postings for the simple reason that the comments aren’t numbered or marked in absolute time, which glaring defect makes it almost impossible to index them properly in order to post a reply. Which results of course in a number of thread-clusters (of nested messages) buried anywhere along the thread, some of them perhaps peripheral to the general discussion, others more central perhaps — and it’s a royal pain in the butt to keep on having to retrieve them time and time again, especially if one thinks they’re important enough not to lose sight of.

    The second has to do with a mode of “communication” that, unfortunately, becomes all too pervasive to be ignored, a mode of communication that isn’t really communicating, certainly not what one would expect when, say, having a conversation with another person, but something entirely different, as though the poster’s intent wasn’t really to move the discussion forward but rather to hear themselves speak, to have a conversation with themselves, and so on. And the usual outcome is, two ships passing each other by, getting lost or losing contact in the internet fog. The fortunate thing is, we can do something about that, but first, we’ll need to see some real life examples of the kind of glitches and snafus that tend to derail the discussion rather than help move it forward. This I’ll do in my next post.

  92. I too will post at the top (I think — if you select ‘Newest’ under ‘N comments’ — sometimes).

    I am somewhat surprised that my attempt to propose a minimal, materialistic, obvious ‘moral order’ by which various political theories and acts, including violent ones, might be evaluated, has proved so difficult. I have found myself composing a number of variations on the same theme. I am certainly not communicating very effectively, although I do usually enjoy hearing myself speak.

    If we are not going to confine ourselves to the sort of literary criticism that is mostly about itself and its author, it seems necessary to have an explicit, generally understood, generally accepted framework in which to analyze the subject matter. Maybe someone else should propose something.

  93. Troll: Tit-for-tat strategy. I am looking here regarding Axelrod’s work.

    I like the tit-for-two-tats better than the plain tit-for-tat. It seems like what they say under the problem of the death spiral sounds like what might be happening in typical encounters where there is political disagreement between people or even erroneously interpreted disagreement or imagined criticism.

    “A one-time, single-bit error in either player’s interpretation of events can lead to an unending “death spiral”. In this symmetric situation, each side perceives itself as preferring to cooperate, if only the other side would. But each is forced by the strategy into repeatedly punishing an opponent who continues to attack despite being punished in every game cycle. Both sides come to think of themselves as innocent and acting in self-defense, and their opponent as either evil or too stupid to learn to cooperate.

    This situation frequently arises in real world conflicts, ranging from schoolyard fights to civil and regional wars. Tit for two tats could be used to avoid this problem.”

    In any case I have not really had much experience with these ideas and their outcomes. I will save an opinion for when I might have a more informed one. It will be interesting to learn something new.

  94. roger nowosielski

    I hope he hadn’t disappeared into the wilderness like Moses, for forty some years, just when the going gets good.

    The time to bring the children of Israel to the promised land, is NOW!

  95. roger nowosielski

    And I just noticed, it’s a different kitty cat this time, Siamese I think.

    Wonderful creatures.

  96. roger nowosielski

    OK. Consider the following “dialogue” (along with a commentary, in brackets) as per postings in chronological order.

    #1 Anarcissie

    Human beings are necessarily social. They cannot survive as a species, and often cannot survive even temporarily as individuals, without social relations with other humans. The social life of humans requires a certain kind of order. This order is not a choice made by rational adult individuals in some kind of social contract; it is necessary and has been necessary before birth, before, even, the evolution of humans.

    The necessities of the human social order, while they may not be rigidly defined, must take a form which provides for certain relations and processes. Among these obviously are the engendering, gestation, birth, care, and education of children. Before the invention of externalized, mechanical forms of memory, it was also probably necessary to take care of the aged, who maintained the memory of the community. It is also evidently of considerable value to divide labor so that tasks tend to be performed by those best able to perform them. Among these tasks are the provision of food and other necessities, and the physical and psychic defense of the community, whether from natural forces, disease, wild animals, or other humans.

    #2 Anarcissie (a follow up):

    . . . I am not universalizing or the moral order that I am proposing. How people derive the moral order isn’t important for my purpose. I am simply pointing out that they must do certain things to survive as a community and often as individuals. I then name these things ‘morals’ or ‘the moral order’. My view is materialistic* so that we can agree or disagree with it by means of examining the world and reasoning about our findings.

    #3 troll:

    :As in, for example, ‘it is immoral in many communities to hoard accumulated wealth’?

    #4 Anarcissie:

    And the epitome of morality in others. I suppose that judgement might have to do with a perception of the negative (or positive) survival value of hoarding, although I imagine other feelings and ideas would likely come into play.

    #5 troll:

    The moral order you describe is ‘pre-judgemental’?

    (So far, so good. The interlocutors are mindful of the fact that they’re posting in response to one another, both are focused, and the dialogue appears to be moving forward. Now, however, there comes a complication, part of the reason being, the discussion is being joined by yours truly. It now becomes a three-way conversation.)

    #6 roger nowosielski:

    Apt characterization, I suppose. But is it “pre-judgmental” because it’s simply reflective of the perceived needs of a particular community?

    (Yours truly jumps in with best intentions in mind — trying to negotiate between two possibly disparate meanings held by “A” and “t” respectively, with an idea of possibly bridging the gap so as to move the conversation forward. Notice, however, how “r” input is being completely ignored, with the not unexpected result that the discussion is going to come to an abrupt halt.)

    #7 Anarcissie:

    No, a moral order is a framework for making judgements. I want to posit a sort of minimal, stripped-down moral order which most people can understand and work out for themselves, even if they don’t agree with it. Then I can use it to evaluate revolutionary violence or other related political activities.

    Having hoarders in a community might turn out to be a good thing in times of shortage, since the hoarders might then sell or give away some of their hoards (or be expropriated), thus reducing the severity of the crisis. Of course hoarding, if not perfectly secretive, tends to exacerbate social tensions, and that might lessen the community’s ability to deal with the crisis.

    #8 roger nowosielski:

    I thought all along that’s what you had in mind (since your last posting), which is why I referred to this move as a kind of switch (from the earlier articulated conception, whereby you asked whether and/or how a revolutionary activity, which may entail some recourse to “violence” lead to an eventual “moral order”). The way you’re expressing it now, this is the right framework and the right kind of question!

    #9 troll:

    The moral order you describe is ‘pre-judgemental’?

    No, a moral order is a framework for making judgements.

    I communicate poorly…something that I’ll meditate on while in the wilderness for the next couple of days.

    (No, you don’t need to meditate on this, troll, neither for the next couple of days nor in the wilderness, though New Mexico looks inviting. All we need to do here is pay attention to what others are saying, so as to own up to the possibility that there may be a multiplicity of contexts and a chance for the conversation to go astray.)

  97. The conversation does not seem astray to me. The article above proposes an evaluation of certain political techniques (for example, the Bolivarian Revolution, or those activities advocated or implied by Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth). In order to evaluate these techniques in a coherent, rational manner, we need some kind of generally agreed-upon standard of evaluation. Since a consensus on this standard was not apparent, I proposed one, or part of one. It could be accepted, rejected, modified, or replaced. Or, something could be ginned up provisionally, and then if it produced results one didn’t like, we could revisit the question.

    Disqus has stopped sending me mail about this discussion, but it does seem to be recording it, and I am keeping an eye on it.

  98. roger nowosielski

    Of course this is the game plan, what it is about. But we did lose an interlocutor, at least temporarily, didn’t we?

  99. Sometimes people have to go off and think about things. When I first read your article, and ripped through The Wretched of the Earth, and looked at some related material, I thought I needed to think about it. And the first thing I came up with was, in fact, the need for some standard or framework with which to evaluate political actions. One of the things that bothers me is that the prospect of violent combat is so thrilling. It’s in all the movies, but it hasn’t turned out very well in the world, in my estimation. But it is clear that a lot of people (like Sartre, who wrote the introduction to WotE) are among the thrilled. So we have a real, and maybe irresolvable, issue. Much gnawing may be required.

  100. roger nowosielski

    “The article above proposes an evaluation of certain political techniques (for example, the Bolivarian Revolution, or those activities advocated or implied by Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth). In order to evaluate these techniques in a coherent, rational manner, we need some kind of generally agreed-upon standard of evaluation.”

    That’s exactly right. And a “generally-agreed upon standard of evaluation” must be a moral standard of sorts.*

    *(Why moral? Why shouldn’t “efficiency” be our overriding yardstick? It would be too tedious trying to defend this, except for saying that the latter could lead to forms of “social engineering” — for example, eliminating the indolent and the feeble-minded, human eugenics, etc. — so I’m going to give it a rest.)

    Furthermore, a (moral) standard that revolves around activities and values
    which are “life-sustaining” is also on the right track: to say the least, it’s comprehensive enough, hardly disputable, in short, a good starting point. So far so good!

    Now I want to make a couple of observations concerning your earlier articulation, or application of the general idea, and I quote:

    “In order to evaluate political acts, we need a framework or ruler to measure them by. (I define politics as the theory and practice of whose will and interests shall prevail in a community.) Since politics is communal, there must be a community for it to operate in. That is, the community and its constituents must be able to live; that is the fundamental condition for there to be any kind of politics. Political practices which do not permit the community to live terminate themselves, so they are not of interest to us (except perhaps as entertainments of the tragic or horror genres).”

    1. It is too general, I think, to say that “the community and its constituents
    must be able to live” (as a result of certain political practices as opposed to
    some other political practices); and that “political practices which do not
    permit the community to live terminate themselves.

    Now you’re making a subtle (or not so subtle) shift from “mere life” to a certain quality of life. For surely, slave-based societies/communities have been known to persist for indefinite periods of time until they were eventually replaced by a type of community/society that was based on a different economic and political order. And we can argue to the same effect concerning feudal societies until they were eventually replaced by the capitalist ones.

    In any case, political practices in place may meet your litmus test (of sustaining
    life of a community in general) – we’re not talking now about quality of life –
    and still be objectionable on other grounds. Or they may meet the litmus test
    concerning “quality of life,” but that would be applicable only to parts of the
    community, certain classes/segments of it only, at the detriment of the
    remaining classes – not the entire community.

    I think the problem is, your formulation presupposes a homogeneous enough
    community whereby the interests of one would very much coincide with the
    interests of all. Very rarely do we find such a beast in practice unless again,
    we’re talking ‘bout isolated moral/religious communities which had made it a
    point to exist and thrive outside the mainstream. So I think we need a stricter standard – over and above mere “sustenance of life” – in order to evaluate political practices/political order of actual societies from the moral standpoint, a standard that would avail itself of such additional concepts as “justice,” perhaps, or “quality of life” in general.

    2. The idea of evaluating the political in terms of the ethical is not new, of
    course. It’s the classical, Aristotelian conception, whereby politics, properly
    speaking, is an extension of ethics – in terms of formalization of the moral
    rules: e.g., mores acquire the status of laws, etc.

  101. roger nowosielski

    “One of the things that bothers me is that the prospect of violent combat is so thrilling. It’s in all the movies, but it hasn’t turned out very well in the world, in my estimation. But it is clear that a lot of people (like Sartre, who wrote the introduction to WotE) are among the thrilled.”

    Yes, it is thrilling, especially in light of there being limited options of effective resistance in the West at present.

  102. ‘Why moral?’

    That was just the word that popped into my head. The word derives from a Latin word meaning ‘customs’, and still has some connotation of a rule of behavior. The idea I am trying to get at might also be somewhere in the neighborhood of ‘algorithm’, ‘program’, ‘strategy’, ‘tactics’, ‘principles’, ‘character’, ‘habit’, ‘behavior’, ‘conduct’, ‘system’, etc.

    ‘Efficiency’ denotes the ratio of reward to cost. ‘Reward’ and ‘cost’ depend on some agreed-upon set of values, for example one gasoline engine is said to be more efficient than another if the former produces more aggregate torque per unit of fuel consumption than the second, because the conversion of fuel to torque is valued. In the case of our ‘morals’ or ‘algorithm’, we are probably not yet ready for efficiency concerns because we have not yet agreed on what we want them to do in the first place.

    Mere survival is, indeed, not comprehensive of all that we value, although it is certainly a sine qua non. We might observe that, while the Roman administration of Gaul, and the British administration of the West Indies, was such that the slave population of these places actually declined, in the southern U.S. the slave population increased and breeding and selling slaves became economically important. We would not agree that the arrangements of the Old South with regard to involuntary servitude were satisfactory, but evidently they were not so hostile to the lives of the slaves as to exterminate them. On the other other hand, we would have to note that the termination of chattel slavery in the West Indies was accomplished with the least violence and loss of life, whereas in the case of Gaul a foreign invasion and widespread destruction of life and goods were required, while the U.S. had to fight its way through a long and bloody Civil War, the ruination of the South, a hundred years of Jim Crow, and still ongoing suffering from the after-effects. Clearly, a closer reading of history than I have been able to accomplish so far is needed. Then we might begin to know what to answer Toussaint Louverture, Nat Turner or John Brown when they asked for a contribution or advice. (Here I am not suggesting that they be judged as good or bad, but whether their proposed actions were likely to bring about the results they and we would desire.)

    Indeed, there is much beside mere survival to be concerned about; but one step at a time.

  103. roger nowosielski

    That was a rhetorical question. “Moral” is the right kind of term, there’s none other like it, if the object is to make valuations (of the right kind). This is difficult to articulate without being circular.

    And yes, although “survival” (“sustaining life”) is not comprehensive enough to serve as the be-all-end-all measure of human behavior and practices, it’s certainly an excellent starting point upon which to build. So we do agree in these two respects.

  104. roger nowosielski

    And btw, the “Most Recent Comments” editors have been asleep at the switch. Not a good reflection as to the traffic on BC, which has been poor to begin with. Perhaps an overseer will start paying closer attention.

  105. roger nowosielski

    1. It should be noted, of course, that once we start talking about passing moral judgments concerning a political activity or practice, as regards whether it is beneficial or detrimental to the general well-being of a community, we assume a perspective of, shall we say? an impartial observer. And here, different categories of persons come to mind: a philosopher-king, an impartial analyst or statesman, even an ardent reformer or a revolutionary, provided they’re bound by a strong sense of moral code or scruples.

    It also should be noted that human events don’t necessarily or as a rule proceed even from best-laid plans. As Camus aptly observes in Lyrical and Critical Essays:

    “The intellectual’s role is a difficult one in our time. It is not his task to modify history. Whatever people may say, revolutions come first and ideas afterward.” (p. 196)

    2. Can we make a judgment against violence of any kind, a judgment that would cover all possible circumstances and that would stand for all times? If we would, wouldn’t we be committed then to saying that the only true revolutionary is either a pacifist or a saint?

  106. Clavos, I’m still writing here. It’s just the new design make it almost impossible to tell

    • The only thing to do is post at the top, and use the thingie on the left under n comments and the avatar to order the messages by ‘newest’. Avoid ‘reply’ at the bottom of messages, because these often get lost in the shuffle. Disqus was made for one-liner artists and trolls, not for any sort of extended discussions.

  107. Morals are indeed customs, nothing more and nothing less. The customs of man have often placed a variety of things above mere survival throughout history. That is no longer what is being pushed on us and for good reason. The state, the elites, they want a monopoly on killing, on violence, on prisons, police, and war. Those never exposed to violence and death are in many ways the most fearful of and the most controlled by it. They want a somewhat feminized, completely fearful and pacifist populace of indistinguishable cogs, not unlike ants (all female workers) that they can plug in, use, and dispose of at their leisure without blowback… and they’re getting their way. Can they turn us from our history of the wolfpack to a future in the colony/hive? Will we truly be happy that way even if we do ‘survive’?

    Valuing freedom over individual survival has been the source of immeasurable violence, tragedy, and war but it is worth it, don’t let them convince you otherwise.

    • yes indeedy, female cogs that they can use and plug in…i notice all the female cogs plugged into combat, torture, etc

      maybe macho men are cogs themselves

      (who do you think become the police if not mostly male cogs?)

      so, who’s the real problem? scared women? pacifists?
      your solution falls flat on its face

      • “so, who’s the real problem?”

        That depends largely on what you consider the ‘problem’ to be. Problems arise when the world is not what you believe the world should be. Just stop believing the world should revolve around your preferences and all the problems just melt away.

        • Suppose you’re hungry.

          • I’m not. Are you? Are we so short of problems that we need resort to hypothetical problems?

          • I’m giving an example of a problem that will probably persist regardless of your beliefs about what the world revolves around.

          • You’re giving an example of someone else’s problem, not yours or mine or cindy’s. If you make other people’s problems your own then you will have no shortage, no need to belabor that. When you let it go, you realize it’s no longer a problem, it just is.

          • I have given a counterexample to your proposition (that when you let a problem go, it ceases to exist). For all you know, I am hungry right now, and if so, regardless of what my beliefs about what the world revolves around may be, I suspect that ‘letting the problem go’ will not resolve it.

          • But you’re not hungry, or else if you are hungry it’s not a problem as if it was you would already have gotten yourself something to eat.

            Perhaps it would be good to revisit the definition of a ‘problem’ as defined by Google’s algorithm:

            “A matter or situation regarded as unwelcome or harmful and needing to be dealt with and overcome.”

            My point is, if you quit ‘needing’ to ‘deal with or overcome’ other people’s problems, understanding that the manipulation and control required for you to intervene in another’s situation is a moral hazard unto itself, that your share of the world’s problems drops from 100% to 1/7,000,000,000th or so. I’ll grant you that may not be all for some of us, but it is a melting away of great bulk and many of us in the west truly don’t have pressing problems of our own.

            To see how that dovetails with politics, I consider my contribution to larger society not being a burden on the same, I need not proactively solve other’s problems only prevent my problems from becoming other’s. I take on my own problems, those of my family who I am responsible for and have been responsible to me and I don’t actively contribute to anyone elses problems. That may not be grand enough for those seeking to be masters of the universe, but it is the basis for a functioning society. We spent most of our history in tribal (extended family) societies with little link to or concern for problems outside of that circle and we survived just fine.

            Now, everyone seems to want to have a say in how everyone else on the planet lives, the majority yearns for the power the overarching state yields. City of tens of thousands are not content governing themselves they need states. Controlling only the people in your state/region is not enough we need federal oversight. Now there is push even for government of world domination so that no soul is left beyond jurisdiction of those that hold the levers of power… there is to be no escape from the ultimate authority. I don’t like that and think we should be going the other way. Does that constitute a problem in itself? Not so much. I’m just an observer of history, I’m not going to contribute towards that goal neither do I feel some special calling to overcome. The flow of politics is not a problem, it just is.

          • roger nowosielski

            DH — is that you, Doug? If so, I’m glad you’re back!

          • The site is indeed quite hard up for participation if roger is glad to see I’m back.

            It’s on life support, but so long as I can ‘post as guest’ without putting in any real information I might chime in from time to time. Enjoy following the more philosphical discussions but don’t always have much input.

          • roger nowosielski

            This has got nothing to do with the site, Doug. It is what we make it, as this comments thread amply indicates. I’ve always appreciated your input and your coherent representation of the conservative POV, in spite of our philosophical differences.

          • Previously, I gave an example of a problem that will probably persist regardless of your beliefs about what the world revolves around — if you are hungry, you will probably have to eat, rather than change your beliefs. You seem to be unwilling to admit that you overgeneralized, but I’m going to assume you actually understood my point and move along, skipping the innumerable other problems one might have as an individual which would not be dependent on the mentioned beliefs.

            You say, ‘ I need not proactively solve other’s problems only prevent my problems from becoming other’s.’ I can think of numerous problems another might have which I might have to solve proactively or reactively, or suffer some unpleasant fate. For example, I might be improperly pigmented and the other might be a racist in my vicinity. Or, I might have food and the other might be starving to death, so that it would be to his material benefit to overpower me and take my food. Besides which, if he dies on my doorstep, he might become offensive aesthetically. Or, being a member of an extremely social species, I might have a strong affection for someone who was suffering from some serious problem or condition, which I might be able to alleviate.

            So there are a few examples of problems which one might feel one had to solve or work on, even though they were not directly one’s own.

          • You gave an example of a hypothetical problem that doesn’t apply to the target of the comment or anyone likely reading it. Alot is possible with hypotheticals, indeed hypothetically one never ‘needs’ to do anything thereby sidestepping at least one definition of a problem and making me on another level technically correct.

            Let’s ignore that silliness and get back to the bigger picture as it relates to politics, philosophy, etc. I laid out how my small view of things applies to my situation. One of my beliefs I stated was that I should not make my problem’s other people neither would I actively contribute to other people’s problems. Your examples of a violent racist and a violent thief are individuals in violation of those principles. The problems they present could indeed be forced upon the unwilling and are rather transitory in nature and fairly uncommon.

            As to helping others when capable, that is not a problem that’s an opportunity to feel good about yourself. The political aspects, where you feel the need to compel others to change their behavior (for the greater good of course) to eliminate the cause of other’s problems is often where the transition to it becoming your problem occurs. Common phrases would seem to underscore this notion, I could easily imagine a situation arising with your hypothetical hungry person where he might ask: “I’m hungry, could I have something to eat?” with the response being “No problem”. Problems often imply something more adversarial than simply helping your neighbor. The ‘problem’ as I see it often starts when you become embittered that others aren’t doing their fair share (I see it all the time, even in this thread it makes people angry if you’re not on board for their understanding of what’s best) and you start trying to find a way to overcome those obstacles and force compliance of nonwilling third parties to assist in what you believe needs done. The powers of the state become a very tempting tool in this situation for reasons you can likely discern on your own.

            The ends don’t justify the means when the means include coercing anyone else… that leaves you free and in good conscious to use all means personally available but no license to force others to participate. It also means that many problems are simply outside of your ability to control. The fact that I can let problems outside of my control go rather than violate my principles in regards to the state drives some people bananas.

          • I think hunger is a common enough experience not to be a mere hypothesis. I know in my case in recurs with considerable regularity.

            I haven’t found other people’s problems, of sufficient nature and severity to impinge on my own life, to be uncommon at all, and I’m a fairly isolated person. If I had a bigger and more intense social life, I think I would encounter a lot more of them. Of course, your experience may differ from mine; but this should give you pause in generalizing from your own. There are people who seem to be unable to perceive the problems (and other mental states) of others — some think this condition may have a physical cause, like a lack of mirror neurons — but these people often run into severe difficulties in managing their lives, and the condition is often thought of as a sort of deformity or disease. Human beings are highly social animals and negotiating the complex network of their relationships and interactions is a tricky business. If you are not doing it for yourself, and you are not in jail or a mental hospital, someone is probably doing it for you.

            I could give a fairly long list of those impinging other people’s problems, but maybe it won’t be necessary.

          • “I know in my case in recurs with considerable regularity.”

            So does needing to take a breath, that wasn’t the type of ‘problem’ I was discussing. Is hunger really a problem for you or simply an opportunity to satisfy yourself with eating? Not sure I would trade in my hunger if it meant losing the opportunity to enjoy cuisine. I’d give up breathing, but not my sex drive. I enjoy running which can be physically uncomfortable and demanding but is accompanied by quite a rush at the finish, allows for more opportunity of fine cuisine, and better overall health. I’m getting off topic, but the point is not every single inconvenience has to be looked on as a problem, many can just as easily be seen as opportunities, most especially when it’s within your ability to control the outcome. Yes, I get hungry… no, that’s not necessarily a problem.

            “I haven’t found other people’s problems, of sufficient nature and severity to impinge on my own life, to be uncommon at all, and I’m a fairly isolated person”

            That’s unfortunate. Would love a couple of current examples, not trying to tear them apart would just like to know whether or not a) I have the same types of problems and as you have or b) I don’t view them as problems, evidently some sort of biological flaw now or c) I don’t view them as interfering with my life.

        • So then I guess your original comment was a waste of time for you. It contains problems. It poses problems with government, “feminization” of men, etc.;a question about happiness; and a solution.

          Why not just eat your gruel in silence if you, as you claim, have no problem? Or is your problem the only valid one?

          (Only sociopaths see solely their own desires as valuable and their own problems as problems. Your response to Anarcissie’s query is telling.)

          • Life is a waste of time…. then you die. Everything in between is for entertainment purposes only, most especially a Disqus comment. As you seem to be entertained by labels and analyzing me please share what I’m ‘telling’ with my comments.

          • I already did. I guess you missed the implication.

            What I am finding a waste of time is this conversation. I will leave this conversation to those who are more mild-mannered, and even-tempered in the face of, well, people with your point of view.

          • At least you’re aware of your limitations. Why do you think it bothers you so much that someone else dares to have a different opinion on things, so much so that you have trouble with your temper? Do you believe it is your duty to control other’s thoughts? Are you simply angry that ‘the other’ exists?

            I relish diversity, in conversation, in life and have no ill will towards your political preference so long as you’re not intent on compelling me to join. The fact that my opinion angers you has me concerned in that respect.

          • I welcome discussion that is discussion. Perhaps in the future we shall have an actual discussion. Perhaps not.

            (Btw, I relish diversity of emotional expression. The fact that my anger concerns you…etc.)

  108. I think we should not forget our ignorance and impotence. In regard to rules, moral or otherwise, Wittgenstein points out that we cannot follow them properly, because, in order to follow the rules, once must interpret them, but in order to interpret them, one must have rules for interpreting them; but in order to use rules for interpreting the rules, one must interpret…. one must recurse for a long, long time; it’s turtles all the way down. Which is one reason why most people just do whatever the hell they want to, somewhat restrained by the shapeless specter of potential divine and natural retribution — and, possibly, their more delicate feelings. About the best we can do, speaking materialistically and rationally, is try to approximate the rules.

    So I try to avoid the objective, the impartial, the godlike, and ask myself what I want, as I see things, and ask others what they want, as they see things, and hope to be able to form some kind of provisional agreement. Dog help us if we need any gods or saints or philosopher-kings for this, because the real ones are in short supply, although there’s no dearth of fakes. And that is a pity, because without these wonderful beings we can, will, and do go wrong.

    This is why we do not want to win; why victory is death. We want to lose in such a way that we and ours nevertheless stay alive, and transform, or at least tire out, our enemies.

    In any case I wanted to start out with something obvious and simple and axiomatic, that most people would at least understand even if they couldn’t agree with it.

    I have not been able to read Aristotle without falling asleep, but I think he tries to ground morals in human well-being, one’s own and that of those for whom one has affection, which as we have said seems to be a requirement for human life. Thereupon, I have heard, Augustine posits the politics of the ‘city’, the human community, as I take it, upon a system of overlapping and reinforcing affections. If so whatever provisional rules we might make up will, hopefully, embody these affections and at least attempt to preserve the lives the affections are attached to. Just an idea — I don’t like Augustine all that much either.

    But let us not forget that Saint-Just took these same principles of affection as mandating frequent exercise of the guillotine (although nothing like the frequency his spiritual descendants of 150 years later achieved with other tools) all in the name of the well-being of the community, in the name of freedom, equality, justice, and, probably, peace and nonviolence. As the song goes, ‘Just one more hit….’

    Anyway, I suppose people might add something to our set of axioms besides survival.

  109. roger nowosielski

    Well. you had started out with something that’s obvious, upon which we can hopefully build. I’m not certain, however, how the objective vs. subjective plays into this. We may say all we want that what we want to see, that what we’re after, is nothing more than an expression of our personal preferences or values. But once we’re in the business of soliciting agreement, aren’t we crossing the line in a manner of speaking by trying to turn what had started out as purely subjective into objective (where “objective” connotes the arriving at a significant consensus or agreement)?

  110. There are different kinds of objectivity. What I call ‘strong objectivity’ makes absolute, universal ontological claims; ‘weak objectivity’, on the other hand, means only ‘apparently true for most observers most of the time’. (Some people have used the term ‘intersubjectivity’.) Of course, weak objectivity doesn’t raise the flag, set armies marching, command devotés to starve in Lhasa or Paris, paint the Sistine Chapel, storm the Winter Palace, fly to the moon, and so on. That’s what we have poetry for. And maybe gladiatorial combat.

  111. roger nowosielski

    As an anti-essentialist, I go along with the latter. I think that’s Donald Davidson’s position with whom for the most part I agree. See for instance Problems of Rationality, his last compendium of essays.

  112. Alternative formulation – the moral order of an organization derives from those actions that its members must perform to reproduce that organization.

  113. The community requires a culture, and an organization (set of relations) which maintain the culture, which includes its moral order (set of rules by which it operates). The rules must include provision for the propagation of the rules (and the rest of the culture) as well as the physical survival of the community.

    So now we have survival practices and culture.

  114. roger nowosielski

    A community’s culture can be defined thus as a set of practices, praxis, which ensure (i) its survival and (ii) the manner of its survival, style perhaps? It must be allowed, however, that aspects of community’s culture, some of its practices, that is, may prove to be detrimental, or neutral, with respect to its overall objectives. Can we assume, therefore, that they’ll be weeded out, eventually (since one of chief characteristics of a “practice” is that only those which prove to be functional survive)?

    The next question: what’s the role, function, of a theory, then?

    The following are two radical formulations:

    In ‘On Theory’ (which dates from 1970, before his first major book . . . Lyotard retains a solidly Marxian view of critique:

    The function of theory is not only to understand, but also to criticize, i.e. to call into question and overturn a reality, social relationships, the relationships of men with things and other men, which arc clearly intolerable. And as far as I am concerned, that is the dimension of politics. (DPMF, p.210/ Driftworks, p.19)

    Lyotard repeats Marx’s gesture:

    just as the critique of heaven turns into the critique of earth, the critique of religion into the critique of law and the critique of theology into the critique of politics .. . [C]riticism is not a passion of the head, but the head of passion. It is not a scalpel; it is a weapon.24 so theory is to pass from understanding to overturning situations which are ‘clearly intolerable’. intolerable’. Intolerable to whom, or to what? To the exploited, the proletariat, a ‘constant subject’ subjected, in the classic example, by the Industrial Revolution to ‘inhuman’ conditions. The survival of the proletariat under these conditions is generally explained by the scope and effectiveness of the revolution: it was either that or die – they had to go from the country to the new urban environments, had to labour in factories, in mines, merely in order to survive. Such critique serves a supposed master, the oppressed, in the name of the future and of justice.

    Preparing for the scandal (‘hang on tight and spit on me’ ), Libidinal Economy
    offers another analysis.

    lain Hamilton Grant’s Introduction to Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy (pp. xxvi-xvii)

  115. I don’t know if I am ready for the proletariat yet. The birth of the proletariat requires industrialism and capitalism in an institutional form. This situation requires capital, capitalists, a state, a class system, a money system, a property system, and probably a form of land management and ownership which can drive rural people out of agricultural life into the urban working class. All these parties (and their sub-parties) must function together in certain ways, as a community of a certain kind, or the overall system will fail, and at least some parts of it will cease to exist. These are complicated matters.

    It is clear that some aspects of culture are necessary to the physical survival of the community, however, for instance its ability to produce new humans of reasonable vigor who are at least minimally acculturated to its mores, implying attention to sexuality, birth, child care, education, medicine, and maintenance of public (communal) order and an economic practice sufficient to produce basic food, clothing, and shelter. Then, beyond that, are aspects of life which make it ‘worth living’, which I guess are mostly cultural, and also probably more questionable.

    For an extreme example of problematic culture, we have The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas, PDF here.

  116. Off Topic: Rat Empathy: Rats will forego immediate gratification in favor of freeing another trapped rat.

    It was later discovered, in another study, that when one rat thinks another particularly selfish, ruthless or back-stabbing, he refers to that rat as a (dirty) human.

    (If you can get past the jackhammer-like assault on the ears created by the rapid-fire speech pattern of the ‘spokes-model’ in the video above, you may find it interesting.)

  117. roger nowosielski

    So when we say, “you dirty rat, you,” we’re not speaking from ignorance since a truly dirty rat is an exception . . .

  118. The community requires a culture

    A community’s culture can be defined thus as a set of practices, praxis, which ensure (i) its survival and (ii) the manner of its survival, style perhaps?

    A cult of self-worship, perhaps, with initiation rites and dogmatic knowledge.

    • Sounds just like a definition of civilization summed up in one sentence.

      • Indoctrination and worship are central to the definition of “culture”, at least in its pre-WWII English uses. As its reference changed, I wonder how much of this old baggage remained.

  119. (forgot the quotation marks)

    • roger nowosielski

      Use the “edit” function that’s available to the original poster — one of the few improvements over the prior format.

  120. roger nowosielski

    I think that’s insightful and well put. A community’s culture, ultimately, has got to do with self-justification. And conversely, when we speak of counterculture, what’s at stake is criticism (of the mainstream).

  121. Presumably a community would have to justify itself only if someone questioned it. Otherwise its culture would be merely ‘This is who we are and how we do things, everyone knows that.’

  122. roger nowosielski

    I knew I ought to have stopped with the Lyotard quote without specifying “the intolerable” — the proletariat, in this instance. But that’s just one example, and it shouldn’t detract us from the idea of theory as a kind of (radical?) criticism. And we do need to make room for “theory” at the elementary, “molecular” level, if only to be able to contrast it with praxis, as a kind of criticism of the praxis, along radical or less radical lines.

    For a rather novel interpretation of “theory,” – and here we do have to revisit the ancients – see The Tragedy of Political Theory: The Road Not Taken, by J. Peter Euben, Princeton University Press, 1990 (also available as a pdf file here). To whet your appetite, here’s a brief citation from the jacket:

    “In this book, J. Peter Euben argues that Greek tragedy was the context for classical political theory and that such theory read in term of tragedy provides a ground for contemporary theorizing alert to the concerns of post-modernism, such as normalization, the dominance of humanism, and the status of theory. Euben shows how ancient Greek theater offered a place and occasion for reflection on the democratic culture it helped constitute, in part by confronting the audience with the otherwise unacknowledged principles of social exclusion that sustained its community.”

    To enlarge on this idea, perhaps comedy (Aristophanes) should be included as well (but if I’m correct, the term “tragedy” encompassed both comedy and drama).

    In any case, on this reading, theory emerges as a kind of exercise in (political? social?) imagination. I’ll re-read parts of the text so as to arrive at a firmer idea.

    And btw, given troll’s proposed definition of “culture,” it’s no longer problematic (or is it still?) to be able to posit a meaningful distinction between “culture” and the prevailing “moral order,” which is also part of the larger culture. The making of such a distinction is especially important at the “molecular level,” for if we can’t make it at that level, how can we make it when analyzing a full-fledged community?

    The question still remains: If a community’s “moral order” is part of, and co-extensive with, the larger culture, how can that moral order serve as a basis for critiquing aspects of the larger culture on moral grounds? That would be like asking it to be critical of itself. Perhaps that’s where “theory” comes in – so as to allow us to step outside our culture and the moral order that’s implicit in it, in order to be able take an independent/critical look!

  123. Well, we could imagine a small Stone-Age community in which a cultural value of ‘manliness’ evolved in response to its environment, or just by chance. This value would include self-discipline, fortitude, strength, aggression, hunting, fighting, and sexual prowess, certain kinds of self-decoration and display (such as ritual boasting) — the usual. In this community, even the women and children are as manly as possible. In its initial stages, we would observe comparison and competition at least between the manlier males. But now imagine (perhaps through chance) some very light contact with another community, which would give our subject the community the idea of objectifying their community and imagining it as seen from the outside. Now, cultural critics in the subject community could debate as to whether the community as a whole was as manly as it might be, because they could create in their imaginations another community like their own but manlier. Various solutions might be prescribed for the perceived lack of manliness, such as compulsory exercises or persecution of the insufficiently manly. On the other hand, the costs of producing manliness in terms of other things upon which one might like to spend one’s time and energy might cause critiques to arise which proposed that the community was manly enough, or even too manly. What would be difficult for this community to do, given its size and isolation, is escape from the manliness paradigm. And that might have fatal consequences for the community, since manliness as described above is not a complete survival kit.

  124. “What would be difficult for this community to do… is escape from the manliness paradigm”

    Why? The seeds of escape are already in your tale. You mention a couple of times debate or critique. Debate or critique with whom? If you’re having debate or critique at all you already have people with alternative paradigms in mind. In our other discussion I mentioned letting go as something to be embraced, the solution is not in coming to some democratic agreement on the ideal level of manliness and persecuting or proscribing certain activities for the group but in letting go, letting people follow their own beliefs in this regard. You can do this even when you ‘know’ you are right, certainly people will see the superiority of your way when they are allowed to witness it side by side, right? People will believe that more manliness is the greater good, others will believe that less manliness is the greater good, in a society where both factions exist you allow individuals the opportunity to see a microcosm of both in their daily life enabling them to see both the positive and negatives of both ways. It’s at that point that a third way, the idea that maybe manliness is not that all important factor in the greater scheme after all may be allowed to flourish and the paradigm can be escaped.

  125. It’s true that ways of thought could evolve orthogonal to the manliness paradigm, but I don’t think they would appear as a result of critical theory but rather as a sort of deviance or delinquency of low-status people — those with little talent for manliness or the rhetoric attached thereto. Recall as well that many cultures’ moral order includes provisions for killing or exiling the blasphemers, the unbelievers, the dissident, the disloyal. After all, our little Stone-Age band has apparently confirmed through experience that manliness leads to the good life, or they think they have, and those who are not good team players are a detriment to the group as well as personally repulsive.

    What I’m trying to get at is that, whatever the sum of ideas floating around at any given moment in a community, it’s not easy to step outside of that sum. The people most likely to do it are those with the least invested in the state of things as they are, and they are likely to do it in crude and impolite ways (because they have low status and have not learned elite manners and practices). I think this is true even in very complex cultures like our own.

    In any case, I’m just trying to imagine how critical theory, critique, critics, would evolve in their simplest, most primordial form. It’s a thought-experiment, lightly grounded in desultory anthro readings of yesteryear.

  126. It’s not so great a jump from, “I could have done that differently” to, “You could have.”

    • But in the other direction?

      • Modifying my ‘praxis’ based on the observed failures of others to accomplish some task doesn’t seem unusual.

        • Sure. I was thinking of whether people can easily modify the evaluative framework within which they decide what is success or failure — critique the critique. This relates to the paradox that was mentioned much earlier in this discussion, about Euro-critics evaluating or not evaluating the Bolivarian Revolution. Even their criticism of themselves necessarily proceeds according to European traditions.

          • Does the image of a number of moral orders overlapping to greater and lesser degrees existing under the umbrella of a community add anything? Maybe the fuzziness at the edges of overlap is enough to generate such critique.

          • One of the reasons I got into the stuff about ‘How are we going to evaluate Fanon’ and the fundamental requirements of a moral order was to try to work myself into one of those edges or gaps. One of the reasons for that is that I note the repeated failure of the revolutionaries and activists of my party, the Left, to come up with results better than more liberal capitalism (and sometimes much worse results) which suggests that better critiques may be needed.

          • At least at the level of rhetoric, the Bolivarians are exploiting the gap between the moral orders of growth and sustainability. We are familiar with the level of violence that comes with growth. What kinds of violence are associated with the sustainability order…anthropologically speaking?

          • My anthro readings are pretty spotty. I do recall reading about an island where, if your extended family got too populous, someone had to be killed. (The tale might have been fiction, of course.) Many island economies have managed their populations by exporting humans. Of course the more common practice is to seek out war, overextension, and catastrophe. If the Venezuelan government is really going for steady-state, I guess it’s cutting new ground.

  127. Many cultures do indeed practice shunning, exiling, killing, persecuting individuals as well as forbidding activities seen as going against the norm… limiting those sorts of things to the minimum would be part of my desired system (although there can be points it would even be odd for me). Perhaps people understand on a basic level that allowing others to choose different ways is a very real threat to their beliefs, perhaps it belies their apparent confidence in the rightness of the way they have chosen.

    • They may think it’s a threat to their lives and welfare. Many people, in many different cultures, have been pretty sure that showing disrespect to the gods or the elders would bring at least bad luck.

  128. roger nowosielski

    To recap and comment on some of the salient points of the discussion.

    1. Anarcissie quite correctly observes that the cultural values of a community – manliness, in this instance — evolve in response to its environment. One important feature of such an environment could well be a history of aggression on the part of its neighbors. Consequently, in order to be able to successfully keep on repelling such acts of aggression, it’s reasonable to suppose our subject community would become militarized, skillful in the arts of war, and all that it implies. Think of Sparta, for instance!

    At the end of the same comment, it is also being suggested that since an inordinate amount of energy and resources are being expended in order to maintain our hypothetical community in a state of constant military readiness, “that might have fatal consequences,” again, since the art of waging war might not constitute a “complete survival kit.”

    This is less than accurate, I think, for it must be presumed that the ability
    to wage war, and successfully at that, must be predicated on a vast array of
    support services, such as provision of food (for the army, as Napoleon was
    reputed to remark, marches on its stomach), arms-making, tending to and training the young, et cetera, et cetera. So even in a thoroughly militarized community, we already see a highly developed class structure, if only in terms of the necessary division of labor – all of which suggests that a “complete survival kit” is already in place, and that if it weren’t for that, our subject community couldn’t excel whether in military arts or in any other vital to it endeavor.

    2. It is also being suggested, in the same comment, that somewhere along the line, as a result of some kind of contact, whether minimal or extensive, with other cultures and other communities, our subject community would become “objectified” in terms of what it is essentially about, in terms of how distinct it is from other communities and cultures, in terms of what makes it relatively speaking unique. And this, too, is on the right track except for what is being omitted or taken for granted: namely, that by the time our subject community becomes “objectified,” it’s already under assault from other cultures and other communities – this time in terms of ideas.

    We’d like to think, for instance, that the age of heroes represents the Golden Age of a civilization, and perhaps it does! But in that case we have to re-define what we ought to mean by “golden,” to represent a civilization that is already being challenged by other communities, other values, other ways of life; and in that sense, “golden” corresponds more closely to the beginnings of the community’s decline rather than to its peak. Ergo, the Homeric age of heroes, as represented in the Iliad, for instance, already marks a civilization under duress: hence the need to emphasize the heroic and invent the myth of the heroic, in order to be able to repel the challenges facing it.

    3. Another debatable point concerns the class that is most likely to step outside of the community’s predominant culture and represent the voice of discontent and criticism. It is asserted, for instance, that “the people most likely to do it are those with the least invested in the state of things as they are, and they are likely to do it in crude and impolite ways . . . .”

    While there is no question that some of this may be true, history suggests quite a different pattern, namely, that it is precisely the community’s most educated and most eloquent spokespersons who are most likely to serve in that capacity. The Greek tragedians (the latter-day Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides), Aristophanes, the historian Thucydides, the legendary Socrates – each spoke loud and clear to the Greek hubris and the many injustices and contradictions prevalent in the ancient culture, more so than any other segment of the Greek society (so perhaps we’re being unduly influenced here by the fact that we no longer live among the giants).

    4. All of which suggests that perhaps we’re being foolhardy when we’re looking to our distant past for some “Stone-Age” community that would be bereft of all the complexities and the kind of sophistication that we so readily associate with the communities and cultures we’re most familiar with, the communities and cultures of the present, that is. If such a thing ever existed, we certainly cannot imagine it. At the very least, we can’t think of an “objectified culture” and a culture prior to it having become “objectified” as though representing two different and distinct stages in the development of a human community: it all comes at once as one complex whole. Exposure to what is different makes it so, and prior to that exposure there is nothing. The very formation and development of language consist in “objectifying” things. We don’t know what “manliness” is until we’ve been exposed to something different, something that it is not. Only then, by virtue of some such contrast, that a concept is born and becomes “objectified.” At any rate, to be looking for some “Stone-Age,” primitive community, prior to it having come of age, is a fool’s errand: it reminds one of looking for the mythical, Hobbesian “state of nature.”

    5. In one of the comments, “troll” asks:

    “Does the image of a number of moral orders overlapping to greater and lesser degrees existing under one umbrella of a community add anything? Maybe the fuzziness at the edges of overlap is enough to generate such critique.”

    I’d certainly agree that detecting a state of fuzziness (at the edges) provides the right kind of motivation to keep on getting clearer, in the process of which (critique), aspects of the conflicting moral orders are likely to be resolved or ironed out. In this connection, however, I’d like to pose another question:

    Isn’t it also the case that as a result of prolonged exposure to different and possibly conflicting (if only at the edges) “moral orders,” we’re bound to arrive at a more or less independent yardstick in terms of which to evaluate the competing moral orders, including our own? I would have to say, “yes,” and that that yardstick is our sense/concept of justice!

    6. Whether a critique is necessarily bound to be articulated in terms of the old rather than the new – we may have to postpone answering such a question with any degree of certainty. If the former were the case, then there’d be no such thing as transcendence. [And perhaps dialectics, at bottom, is all about (the possibility of) transcendence.] In any case, the language-experience relationship/interaction is a complex one, and it certainly goes both ways: just as language enables us to reflect on and articulate our experiences, experience is also the crucible in which new concepts are born and the horizons of our language expanded.

  129. Due to an series of most unfortunate electrical phenomena I am without a computer and, therefore, outa here. See you all later.

  130. My reason for imagining a Stone-Age community was to try to envision the idea of social criticism in a very simple form, so as to understand it, not only as to its possibilities but its probable limitations.

    In order to criticize one’s community as a community, rather than the individuals within it, one must objectify (make an object, a defined thing, of) first the community as it is or one thinks it is, and second, the community as it might be, so that one has something to compare the first to. Without this objectification, the community would simply be the sum of the conditions of life, through which its constituents would pass as fish pass through water, a boundless universe to which nothing could be compared. By objectifying, one sets the community apart as a thing which can be examined from outside and compared with other things of its kind, if only in the mind’s eye.

    Since I can’t think of a literal mirror in which my imaginary little community might see itself, I hypothesized that it would come about because of at least remote contact with some other similar community. The particular instance of recognition maybe isn’t crucial — the reason I think we want to pay attention to the process of objectification is that any form of modeling tends to only partially represent the original, and hence the methods by which the objectification is accomplished become important.

    I think the method of objectification is likely to reflect the values and predominant methods of the objectifiers. In the case of our Stone-Age tribe, the outlines and evidence of community manliness would be paramount, as determined by manly displays and actions. In regard to other values — say, the value of the care of small children — it’s quite possible that manliness-based criticism would consider these to be part of the universal background noise, just as people have in other times and places (such as when composing the Iliad), not requiring critical attention. Whereas another community might feel that such matters were of the highest importance. My choice of ‘manliness’ was random; I just wanted something which was considerably at variance with our currently dominant paradigm.

    I am not familiar enough with classical Greek literature to recall domestic critiques of their entire social order — the first major critique in the kind of material I have seen accompanied the appearance of Christianity. When we look at the Greeks of the classical period, we find that many of their leading lights, such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, were beneficiaries of and apologists for slavery. Their nearest approach to scripture memorialized imperial war and depicted the gods as sociopaths and criminals. Modern fans of Antigone often seem to forget that it depicts not the struggle of an individual against traditional authority, but a conflict between a severe religious conservative and a modernizing, opportunistic fascist. I don’t know how much disagreement there was with all that, the ‘dominant paradigm’ until the Greeks ran into the Persians, the Jews, and especially the Christians, who had other ideas.

    My candidate for an substantial critic of classical Greek culture is the outlier Diogenes, who grew up in a town divided between Greek and Persian influence. It’s not surprising that none of his written works remain; what we have are a collection of crank tales. In his own time, however, he was widely known and supposedly respected as a philosopher, and was the inspiration for Stoicism, later adopted even by such as Marcus Aurelius. (Which indicates, of course, that his critiques were not taken very seriously, however radical they might have been. No one in the classical period seems to have thought about abolishing slavery, for instance.)

    To bring this back to Fanon and the Bolivarian Revolution, I wanted to see if we could construct a critique that wasn’t simply an outgrowth of our condition of being embedded in the European Enlightenment, especially since the people and movements we are going to approach claim to be extra-European. This seems to require turning the Enlightenment upon itself, as for example Wittgenstein does when he notes that the rules cannot be properly observed. Just so, we cannot make a proper critique because before we do, we have to have a method to critique the critique, and so on back. What I have wanted to do was escape this vicious recursion by locating some fairly undeniable, fundamental, radical, cross-cultural principles, for example (as I noted earlier) that a victorious political movement which does not result in, or at least permit, the engendering, birth, care, development, indoctrination and education of the community’s children will almost certainly either kill the community, or find itself being quietly neutralized by the community’s living substratum of ordinary people who prefer going on living to ideological propriety. Just so, we must examine the effect of any revolutionary ideologies and procedures on the production of food, housing, and other necessities; the preservation of public health and sanitation; the preservation of the environment, both physical and social; and so on.

    At the same time (still attempting to escape the prisons and drawing-rooms of the Englightenment) I’ve wanted to avoid debatable principles and values, such as those often found in liberal political and economic theories.

  131. Here is something I think is worth seeing. Dustin Hoffman discusses how it felt to be a less than “acceptably attractive” woman in Tootsie. He is overcome with emotion just recalling his experience. Very empathetic fellow.

    • roger nowosielski

      Just watched it. Loved the “beautiful” and “woman” connection.

      Can there be any other?

      • That video is listed on facebook with the title: Dustin Hoffman finds out what every woman knows.

        • I would think that those who lack beauty would be as damaged by their lack of beauty, as those who possess it are damaged by their possession.

          • roger nowosielski

            So is it back to “beauty is in the eye of a beholder”?

            Now I’m totally confused.

          • it means that in a culture where your value in large part comes from some superficial attribute, you are damaged, not only when you don’t possess that attribute, but you are damaged when you do, as you will likely be often valued as an object. (nice TV dude, nice car man, nice tits on that chick) (or nice tits, too bad she’s a dog) (put a bag over her head – wink wink)

          • roger nowosielski

            This is to both of you. My remark was in jest.

          • Fortunately Roger, we took you seriously. It might be helpful for others to see things spelled out. My experience with discussing this with some of the men here is that they are often willing to dismiss female perspective on gender before they examine it, with a casual argument based on their own bias. So, every bit helps.

          • roger nowosielski

            I think you should have said “unfortunately,” Cindy.

          • yes, i meant ‘unfortunately’ xxoo

            (now, tell me that you are jesting again and i must clobber you! 🙂

          • with very soft friendly pillows 🙂

          • The kind of beauty we’re talking about here is mostly socially constructed.

          • yes, i think so too

  132. roger nowosielski

    1. I think your focus on the process of objectification is well taken: first, because indeed it’s a process; and second, because there’s no better basis for modeling. But truly, how different is the process of objectification from the process of language acquisition and learning? I think the two are inseparable, and language still remains our only portal to understanding ourselves and others. It’s only through language that we “objectify.” (According to Barthes, it’s this feature which makes language fascist; Umberto Eco disagrees.)

    (As a corollary to the above, when you speak of “contact,” however remote, as one of the first steps which sets the process of objectification in motion, how different is it from the required contrast, any kind of contrast, however minimal at first, in order for there a primitive concept to be born? — light vs. darkness, for instance, the binary system of yeses and nos serving as it were the foundation of language. From then on, it’s only a matter of ongoing refinement, don’t you agree?)

    2. I’m no expert in ancient Greek literature either, that’s a task of a lifetime, but certain texts are a must and a necessary part of liberal education. Take the Persae, for instance.

    Though watched in Athens, the theater of action was Suza. “For the Athenians to see their victory through the eyes of a once a powerful, still noble, but now defeated enemy meant that the theatrical occasion united loss and gain in a single moment, bringing to the victors in their exaltation a wisdom borne of suffering and loss. This sense of common mortality mitigated the patriotism that the audience no doubt also felt. Not to mention “accord[ing] honor to a non-Western people should remind us of what the nineteenth-century German rereading of Greek cultural authority tried so hard to make us forget ­– that the Greeks understood how much of value in their culture was derived from Afro-Asiatic sources.” (Herodotus’s Histories first-hand; Martin Bernal’s Black Athena, modern-day research.)

    You yourself speak of Antigone, but there is a larger context at stake. Consider:

    “A just man or women, whether in the Oresteia or Republic, is able to identify things and others rightly and to judge where they stand in relation to each other. To recognize (realize and acknowledge) specific others in relation to oneself is to speak and listen to them in ways that respect them as distinctive sources of experience, meaning, and value even as one sees aspects of oneself in them.

    “This is what Antigone; Creon, Agamemnon’s Argos, and the Athenians at Melos did not do. Because they did not, their political and moral landscape became flat and undifferentiated. Everything seemed comparable with everything else; each character and every action seemed part of a homogeneous system of mechanical revenge that denies distinct identities. In this sense the absence of justice is also the loss of identity, a connection made chillingly obvious in the concentration camps”

    More specifically, however:

    “Creon has good reason to be preoccupied with order. Thebes has barely
    survived a civil war in which brother slew brother. Authority is uncertain, relief is mingled with continued apprehension. But the legitimate concern with order goes too far and order becomes everything. As it does, ‘politics’ becomes a matter of command and obedience and Creon becomes the only voice listening only to itself, the only one with wisdom among others whom he assumes are self-centered and self-aggrandizing. As he pares down and pushes away one group after another (he will not be ruled by women, by the young, by his fellow citizens, or even by the gods . . .), he isolates and disempowers himself. The man who insists on total power to maintain complete order is powerless to save the city and is, instead, its active destroyer. Seeking mastery, he winds up a helpless victim. Creaon’s fate gives substance to Arendt’s claim (based on her reading of the Greeks) that power is necessarily collective and that a political power presupposes a plurality of voices and points of view. It also gives substance to the idea that the impulse toward tyranny comes not simply from what is basest in us, but from what is most admirable – our drive for political and intellectual order, our power to define and bound the world in ways that provide both certainty and security. No doubt Creon illustrates the base motives Aristotle attributed to tyrants in the Politics. But to leave
    it at that is to simplify the problem of tyranny and miss its affinities with
    philosophy and political theory as this is presented and represented by the

    “The problem Creon confronts, and the temptation to which he succumbs [and this has direct bearing on the intricate connection between Greek plays and political theory], confronts and tempts political theory as well. Theory arises, and is a response to, periods of political and intellectual disorder, when what
    were once thought to be natural and god-sanctioned boundaries and categories come to seem contrived, if not perverse. Like Creon, the temptation is to believe order is all and you alone can establish it.”

    As to some other works, and I’m taking the lead here from Euben, Oresteia is about justice, Oedipus Tyrannos about identity, the Bacchae about membership (and “dismembership” – each surely a significant dimension of any sociopolitical analysis in any context, modern or ancient. The first two chapters of The Tragedy of Political Theory, referenced in an earlier comment (and available as a pdf file as well) serve as a comprehensive introduction to these all-important themes, and you might want to look at it before deciding to delve into the rest. It’s a provocative and a thoroughly modern treatment of these classics, ending with, surprise, surprise, Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 of all modern works. I’m re-reading both right now, just so you won’t feel like the lone ranger.

    Two more personages (and works) deserve honorable mention lest they get lost in the shuffle: Euripides, especially The Trojan Women, and Thucydides, of course, History of the Peloponnesian War. As regards the first, Edith Hamilton quite rightly names him a pacifist in Periclean Athens:

    “Nothing since, no description or denunciation of war’s terrors and futilities, ranks with The Trojan Women, which was put on the Athenian stage in the year 416 B.C.” (Three Greek Plays); and as to the second, the Melian Dialogue is an unabashed expose of the Athenian hubris, and that’s by the same author that has been credited with having penned Pericles’s “Funeral Speech,” a height of irony I suppose. And here, it wouldn’t be a waste of time to avail oneself of a delightful collection of essays by David Grene, Man In His Pride: A Study in the Political Philosophy of Thucydides and Plato.

    On the closing note, I don’t know what popularity has got to do with anything. We do know that the Greek tragedies were quite popular and that there was never any problem with attendance (just as with Shakespeare’s plays at his own time), especially the comedies by Aristophanes. Aeschylus, the father of the genre, was an aristocrat and a strategoi (a general) during the Persian Wars (as per Herodotus); Sophocles too, I believe, was of “noble” birth. Pindar wrote odes to the rich and famous, so he, too, was in another league. Compared to those, both Euripides and Thucydides were “common men” and both died in relative obscurity, but they’ve surely left a legacy for the rest of us.

    But how is it different from what we experience today, I ask? Marxist historians and economists continue to be marginalized in the West, even in the academia; and the same goes for some of the other most severe critics, such as the post-modernists, for instance. Also, I don’t know what exactly to make of your complaint that there weren’t any critics in antiquity insofar as the entire Greek society was concerned. Does it matter? (I’ll have to comb through secondary literature for anti-slavery sentiments and will report accordingly.)

    In any event, this comment doesn’t address all your points, but it’s a start. More to follow.

    (BTW, I apologize for the rather formal character of the previous comment. Not my style as far as comments go, that’s for sure. I needed to hear myself talk, however, in order to be able to craft a coherent response.)

  133. Modeling is part of the necessary processes of animal brains. Somehow, collections of phenomena which regularly occur together or are related in some formal way are associated into mental objects which can be treated as units and are models of the physical world; for example, certain attributes of a being (size, movement style, outline, color, scent, sound) will be modeled in a cat’s brain as a prey object and the cat may pursue it. It is difficult to attribute language of the human sort (that is, syntactical) to cats, so I would say that primitive objectification doesn’t require language or syntax. But that cat is certainly identifying an object in its universe which calls for its attention.

    However, objectification may entail language-like nervous processes even in the pre-linguistic. It has been speculated that syntactic language arises out of the coding procedures for transmissions along the nerves of animal bodies. Barthes might argue that humans are so deeply imbued with language that any modeling that takes place in the brain must involve it. The question must await scientific evidence. In any case there is no doubt that the sort of modeling we are discussing — that of the members of communities objectifying and critiquing their communities — invariably involves language, even if it does not entirely consist of it, and might be said to be ‘fascistically’ constrained by whatever limits the language imposes on our thought. That is, it is quite possible (indeed, it seems almost inevitable) that there are valid, relevant, true things which we cannot think because our nervous systems do not have the necessary capacity. And surely there are other things which we think because the way in which our language happens to work suggests them to us. (Here I am nodding to Whorf’s famous hypothesis.)

    One of our defects certainly must be our inability to perform infinite recursion, which was the problem Wittgenstein raised. Here, we want to perform a critique, of Fanon, of the Bolivarian Revolution, or of our own political communities, but must also be prepared to critique the critique itself. And to do that, we may have to critique that metacritique, and to do that…. As I said before, I think our only hope is to fall back to rather primordial matters, things which seemingly cannot be doubted and can be connected to our observations of the material world. So far no one has doubted my proposition that a valid revolutionary ideology must provide for, or at least leave room for, the practices which maintain community life on a basic physical level. And some mention has been made of more abstract culture, but I don’t think we have come to any conclusion about it thus far.

    Clearly, it is possible for human communities to exist successfully for millennia without novels (indeed, writing of any kind), official political parties, money, capitalism, universities, tax-deductible charity organizations…. On the other hand, they almost always have art and religion, the latter not in the sense of priesthood and theology but of ritual and legend. Maybe that is a sign of necessity. I am not sure how to define the area of necessity.

  134. roger nowosielski

    I’m really at a loss now how to respond, Anarcissie. Not only does it occur to me that you’re complicating things too much — e.g., what have cats got to do with anything since we’re talking about humans?; what’s worse, perhaps, I fail to detect any kind of workable strategy on your part if the object is, and I presume this hasn’t changed, to move things forward. Whatever cats do or do not do by way of discerning different features of their environment, I don’t see how it impacts what we humans do in order to make sense of the world we live in. In short, I don’t find it in any way problematic to state that insofar as we are concerned, we do all those things — objectifying, discerning differences, et cetera and et cetera — by means of language. I can only speak about our form of life since I know no other. So really, I do fail to see how you going on this tangent is even in the slightest productive. If I didn’t know any better, I’d bet my bottom dollar that you’re stonewalling.

    Perhaps tomorrow morning, once I reread your comment and think on it some more, I’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I doubt it. I’ll try to keep an open mind, however, rest assured.

    • I am trying to establish a basis for critiquing Fanon, the Bolivarian Revolution, and so on. This seems to require a certain amount of snuffling around. As you will recall, I began with a short list of things I thought were required by a community to live, such as the nuture of children, which any attempt to revolutionize the social organization of any community must account for. I mentioned the cats because I wanted to partially refute Barthes’s idea that objectification was entirely linguistic — it does come to ground in material facts. (But I do not want to throw away recognition of the important limitations language may place upon our thoughts.) We can now dispense with the cats. I mentioned the Stone Age tribe and its culture of manliness because I wanted to imagine a simple form of cultural or social criticism different from our own on the chance that we might understand our own procedures better if we contrasted them with procedures in a different culture with a similar general purpose. They, too, can be dismissed into the mists from whence they came — they didn’t work very well. In sum, I don’t think our ruler, our list of values, is long enough yet. As I said, art — what we call ‘art’ — and religion or spirituality or magic seem also to be human requirements. But we have not been very specific about these.

  135. roger nowosielski

    1. First off, Barthes’s argument [that “the given language is fascist” (i) “if power is as Foucault defined it”, and (ii) “if the characteristics of power are found in the given language”] has to be taken in context. It’s got to do with his theory of literature, as Eco puts it,

    as . . . a game of and with words. A category involving not only so-called literary practices but also ones operative in the text of a scientist or historian. The model of this liberating activity, however, is for Barthes always that of the “creative” or “creating” activities. Literature puts language on stage, exploits its interstices, is not measured by statements already made, but through the very game of the subject it states, it reveals the flavor of words. Literature says something and, at the same time, it denies what it has said; it doesn’t destroy signs, it makes them play and plays them.

    Now, whether we agree with this theory of literature or not, don’t we have similar freedoms in everyday speech?

    1.1 Even if we were to say that “objectification was entirely linguistic,” how would that commit us to denying the grounding in material facts?

    “The world is everything that is the case“ (the world is as it seems?) Tractatus. Of course, in the Investigations W modifies his vision by defining the world as being contingent on a given form of life (so we wouldn’t understand a lion even if he were to speak English.)

    As an aside, what’s the cash value of saying that the word is as it seems, that how we see it and what we see via language is grounded in material facts, if that’s all we can say on the matter (since everything is mediated via language)? The only cash value that I can think of is one of affirmation of some underlying reality (as opposed to solipsism, for instance). But who is denying it?

    1.2 (But I do not want to throw away recognition of the important limitations language may place upon our thoughts.)

    Of course language places limitations on our thoughts. Don’t we often struggle, with language, to articulate an intention, a meaning, a thought that is not yet a thought, as though by stuttering? And in a sense, it’s not a thought until it’s articulated, So yes, experience and intention precede thought- and language-formation. I spoke earlier of the language-experience-intention interaction, an ongoing process.

    But I don’t think it’s limitations placed on us by language that pose the greatest problem: rather, it’s a certain rigidity in us, the limitations that come with our form of life. I’ll articulate this later in the context of Greek tragedies.

    2. I think we’ve already made some progress even if you don’t think so.
    Made a distinction between a community’s culture and moral order, for
    one. Tied the latter to life-sustaining functions. The praxis of a community
    made it necessary to introduce the notion of theory – an attempt to fix things
    and restore order if and when praxis seems to be disintegrating or becomes
    riddled with inconsistencies and contradictions. And the theorizing impulse in us is preceded by critique, a critique that can also turn on itself. (I’ll provide an example later from Marx’s own writings,) So these are some of the elements or dimensions which are part of our reconstruction (of a hypothetical human community from ground up), the basic structure. It only remains to fill it in the detail.

    3. As I said, art — what we call ‘art’ — and religion or spirituality or magic seem also to be human requirements. But we have not been very specific about these.

    Requirements in the sense that we find these in most every culture? The aesthetic impulse leading to art-creation as both an activity and a value? The spiritual impulse leading to creation of faith objects and engagement in activities, rituals, practices – religious or magic-bound – as part of our devotion to, and or celebration of, said faith objects?

    4. I am trying to establish a basis for critiquing Fanon, the Bolivarian Revolution, and so on.

    So do I. But try as you may, you can’t do so without some concept of justice – whether and under what circumstance is violence justified – and yes, having granted that “sustenance of life” is one of the overriding values.

    I spoke earlier on the subject of the evolution of impulse. In the case of aesthetic impulse, we see a progression of art-formation from ornamentation or decoration to “art-for-art’s sake” activity and art creation. In the case of moral impulse, a progression from mere customs and mores to a sort of standalone, independent and divorced from mere functionality, moral/ethical system/order grounded in some conception of justice.

    This progression results in ideational concepts in art and in morals. Objects of art can then be judged/evaluated/appraised in terms of some independent aesthetic principles or conceptions (of beauty, for instance). Moral systems or orders can then be judged/evaluated/appraised in terms of some independent ethical principles or conceptions – of justice in this case. It is thus that a community’s moral order can be judged independently of itself, according to some independent conception of justice. It’s a critique of a critique, a critique turning on itself. What is frustrating, none of this had evoked any response, as though I was addressing myself.

  136. We can skip over dealing further with the artistic and religious realms by skipping over the specification of their content. If half of the tribe thinks abstract expressionism is good, and the other prefers naturalism, they can probably agree to disagree. Likewise with religious practice. All we need to do for the moment is specify that the proposed better society will leave room for these things and permit their free expression, absent crime in some other realm. (We may need to consider positive support later.) So we have definitely made some progress.

    In the case of justice, though, I have an idea that we can’t have two or more species of justice. Justice is usually totalizing — it makes universal claims. So we will have to specify its content, I suppose. You can begin.

    Digressive notes:

    1. I regard the first sentence of Witt’s Tractatus to be just about the most mystical thing I have ever read. I used to belong to a Witt group and none of them could explain it. If we say that ‘X is the case,’ this usually means ‘X is a correct statement’ (with regard to the universe of discourse). So if we now say, ‘The world is all that is the case” (“Die Welt ist alles, was der Fall ist.”) we seem to be saying that the world consists of the totality of correct statements. Of course we can all think of elements of the world that are not correct statements or parts of correct statements…. but maybe he is defining the world which he is going to talk about as the totality of correct statements. In any case, if we have to solve this riddle we may never get to a critique of the Bolivarian revolution.

    2. I wanted to say that art was ‘the making of useless things’, but any shaman would snort at that and point out that artistic objects and performances are supposed to have distinct psychotropic effects. So I didn’t say it.

    3. Back in Postmodernity, someone said that because every word in the dictionary leads only to other words, language was materially meaningless (or something like that.) But in fact every word has deep roots which mingle in the primordial darkness underlying the multifarious blab of daily life. I am glad to hear this is now widely recognized.

    4. Also, back in Postmodernity, someone said, ‘The object represses’, but in searching Google for this truth I found only a single hit, a paper called ‘Surrealist Ghostliness’ by K. Conley emanating from the University of Nebraska Press. I can’t tell you how satisfactory this outcome was: the repressing object wound up repressing itself, except for a single ghostly surrealist spark — in Nebraska!

  137. roger nowosielski

    I’m beginning to see your game plan: trying to arrive at a primitive model of a “better society” in which there is freedom to disagree on less-than-vital (peripheral?) things while there is a general consensus as to the dominant values — such as those dealing with “life-sustenance” functions. Do you suppose, however, that having a fairly clear picture of what a “better society” should look like (in the kinds of respects you consider important) would help us get there? And if so, how? These are two different propositions.

    There is indeed a totalizing aspect to justice, but that’s, however, not the crux of the matter. The problem rather has to do with there circulating at the same time differing, if not conflicting, conceptions of justice. “The Murder of Mary Phagan,” based on a true story, is a case in point. And I’m presuming, further, that we’re dealing here of folks of “good will,” folks who just happen to subscribe to conflicting conceptions.

    One could take refuge, of course, in the community’s legal system as though purportedly representing that community’s prevalent/dominant conception of justice (at any one time). We know, however, that’s not an adequate or lasting solution for, more often than not, the community’s legal system is skewed to represent the interests of the ruling class, So we need a conception of justice that would rise above the society’s legal standards (of justice) so as to be able to subject those very standards to an independent scrutiny.

    What I’m getting thus far from my readings of Greek tragedies and secondary sources, the main idea (of justice) has got to do with maintaining a kind of healthy balance between conflicting interests and concerns, and will comment on this at greater length when ready. Meanwhile, it would help if “troll” and Cindy were to join the discussion. Hopefully, Shenon might, as I got an encouraging email from her lately.

  138. I’m not actually trying to put together a model of a better society (in this discussion). I’m trying to make up or evolve principles or measures by which we might evaluate ideologies. Thus if an ideology proposes arrangements which are antagonistic to the nurture of children (for example) it will score low in my ideology rating system because I would view those arrangements as tending to lead to the demise of the community which adopted them. On this level I mentioned also care of the elders (at least in a preliterate society — in ours we can stuff them away and forget them), a basic economy of the necessities, and a certain modicum of social order. Then I mentioned art and religion, only because they almost invariably appear in human communities, and so I take it they are necessities somehow. But I cleverly avoided specifying their contents.

    I think Justice, however, is going to be tough. There certainly are conflicting notions of justice, especially on the part of those with some skin in the game. (What an odd phrase! But you know what I mean.)

  139. roger nowosielski

    Unfortunately, ’tis so, different conceptions of justice and the main problem, how to reach a consensus. Solving that would go a long way toward solving most of the societal problems.

    Interestingly, we seem less conflicted about other virtues — as regards what is honesty, for instance, or what is humility or charity or loyalty or patience, even as regards what is “good.” (I don’t regard love as a virtue!) But for some reason, justice always poses a problem, perhaps because it’s too close for comfort, to the heart of the matter, the immediate interests of the selfish self.

    Fairness doesn’t pose that much of a problem because fairness, for the most part, concerns the people we know, people we have relationships and dealings with, whether our superiors or inferiors. To be unfair in such situations would be to deny those very relationships, to deny the very reality of them, and ultimately, to sever ourselves from those relationships. This we cannot or usually do not do. But it’s different with justice, because justice is a social concept, a concept that transcends the personal so as to make it apply, with equal measure, to the impersonal as well – people and situations we don’t care to know, people and situations we’re unlikely to be confronted with in person, people and situations that are therefore unlikely (so we judge) to make a discernible difference in our lives. Which is precisely why we must, and usually do, pay a far closer attention to fairness than we do to justice. The first, if not tended to, can impact our lives in negative and immediate ways; the second, very unlikely. Which again explains why we tend to fairness but, when it comes to justice, we’re less constrained and therefore free to disregard it and continue in our selfish ways.

    In any case, a good treatment of sovereignty and the hierarchy of virtues may well be what the good doctor had ordered; and I can’t think of a better author and text in this respect than Iris Murdoch’s The Sovereignty of Good, if only to see how justice fits in the overall scheme of things.

    If I’m not mistaken about the import of Greek moral and political philosophy, the concept of justice was always at the head, the driving force behind all moral and political thinking bar none. Which is why the modern view, by such as Elizabeth Anscombe, Iris Murdoch, and Philippa Foot, top-notch philosophers in their own right, not to mention honorable dames of the all defunct by now British Empire, deserves our utmost attention.

  140. roger nowosielski

    “The Murder of Mary Phagan,” a movie to which I linked below, is really worth watching. (It used to be available in on Hulu Plus.)

    In any case, it shows how decent, ordinary people, because of their sociopolitical situation or circumstances, subscribe to a horrid idea of justice, through no fault of their own, it would seem.

    An object lesson?

  141. Etymologically, just and justice refer to the gods (or God, etc.) The ju- also shows up in ‘Jupiter’ (ju+pater), for instance. ius (the Latin word) also refers to law, ‘right’, and oaths. At the other end of historical time from Proto-Indo-European, Iris Murdoch and company seem to still be referring to the gods (or God, etc.) in her quasi-neo-Platonism — the belief in some higher, more important realm, which can only be intuited.

    The problem with this move is that, in spite of our confessions and professions, we all seem to come up with different gods. The happy fact of materialism and the material universe is that we generally acknowledge the same one, and see the same features in it. Where we disagree, we can often agree on procedures (science, forensics) which will enable us to come to agreement. Needless to say, these features often seem tedious and dull and are dismissed as mere science: ‘…the fearful solitude of the individual marooned upon a tiny island in the middle of a sea of scientific facts, and morality escaping from science only by a wild leap of the will’ — if I may quote Murdoch directly as quoted by All Manner Of Thing.

    God, or at least something other than ourselves, is in the details, the material details, and we don’t want to be bothered with the details. We want what we want, and in service to our desires, we may well want to project our will, our desires, on the heavens, and proclaim them as universal. How much more resounding it is to supplant ‘I want X’ with ‘God wills X!’

    Well, I can understand that. I too desire my will to prevail against a universe of conflicting wills — although not too much, since those other wills may be interesting or even lovable. But, basically, who would not want to ring in some vast, universal being on their side in the struggle?

    But this leads us, it would seem, only to contests of force. If your view of the gods and mine are at odds, we just have to fight it out, because the gods, although summoned, generally do not choose to declare for one side or the other, in spite of our numerous and passionate invocations to them. The astounding cruelties of religious and ideological wars follow logically.

    By contrast, how modest, how peaceable, how amiable materialism appears!

  142. roger nowosielski

    Rather than trying to disprove the inference you seem to be drawing from etymology of the term as regards the lasting effects on the modern (as well as ancient) usage, let me refer you instead to the following review of Philippa Foot’s Natural Goodness.

    Not only does it reverberate some of the themes you’ve raised; it also provides for a more comprehensive context in which to discuss the kind of difficulties you’re having with the concept of justice.

  143. If I may skip ahead several steps, what do we then make of Aristotle, Plato, Augustine, Aquinas, John Locke, and John C. Calhoun, intelligent, thoughtful men, who all sincerely believed that slavery was natural and good, at least under the circumstances of the world? For them, slavery was just as well as necessary. No doubt they all went to church, too.

    How can we argue with these august gentlemen? Or should we just free ourselves of them?

  144. roger nowosielski

    Have they all said that slavery was “natural and good”?

    But to return to my last comment, and I think you ought to read the review on Philippa Foot, especially since it’s succinct and brief, the following excerpt from Elizabeth Anscombe, in Modern Moral Philosophy, serving as a bone of contention with Ms Foote:

    Returning to my example of the intrinsically unjust: if a procedure is one of judicially punishing a man for what he is clearly understood not to have done, there can be absolutely no argument about the description of this as unjust. No circumstances, and no expected consequences, which do not modify the description of the procedure as one of judicially punishing a man for what he is known not to have done can modify the description of it as unjust. Someone who attempted to dispute this would only be pretending not to know what “unjust” means: for this is a paradigm case of injustice.

    And here we see the superiority or the term “unjust” over the terms “morally right” and “morally wrong.” For in the context of English moral philosophy since Sidgwick it appears legitimate to discuss whether it might be “morally right” in some circumstances to adopt that procedure; but it cannot be argued that that the procedure would in any circumstances be just.

    • I did read the review you mention. In regard to ‘intrinsically unjust’, I have just been reading a book which mentions a common belief among Asian Buddhists that a person (or animal) may be justly punished in the current life for deeds in a previous life, as a result of the workings of karma. In old-time mainstream Christianity, any evil one suffers, even being sent to Hell, is as nothing compared to one’s burden of Original Sin. There is also the notion (which Ratzinger argued against, but it makes sense) that God is totally free and can justly do what is ‘unjust’ to his creatures because, after all, he writes all the rules. No doubt many Nazis who put deformed, retarded, and racially incorrect children to death sincerely believed they were treating them justly and relieving them of the burden of having to live out their defective lives. The fans of slavery I mentioned certainly thought it was just, as we shall see. Fans of ethnic, religious, and racial war are usually ready to claim justification based on events which happened far away and in other ages. On the evidence, Anscombe does not know what she is talking about.

      Here is Aristotle on slavery: ‘But is there any one thus intended by nature to be a slave, and for whom such a condition is expedient and right, or rather is not all slavery a violation of nature? There is no difficulty in answering this question, on grounds both of reason and of fact. For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient; from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule.’ (Aristotle, _Politics_, I.5)

      I agree with what a noted railroad lawyer once said: ‘If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.’ This seems plainly obvious to me, and I think we can save a lot of time by chucking out the entire pro-slavery lot, at least with regard to attempting to locate and define justice in such a way that we can use the concept to evaluate ideologies.

      However, I’m open to the possibility that justice can’t be defined materialistically, that is, by means of objective evidence and reason. In that case its use as an organ or facet of an ideology would actually be unfavorable, a suggestion that some kind of con was in play.

  145. roger nowosielski

    I don’t recall any reference to Aristotle or others in Philippa Foot’s work (as represented by the cited critique) as necessarily discrediting her own thinking on the subject. In fact, I find both her account of moral thinking as essentially an aspect of practical thinking/reasoning and her emphasis on species-specific “natural goodness” rather refreshing and on the right track (even in line with your pet idea of grounding the concept in materialistic philosophy). So no, I’m not quite ready to ditch all of Aristotle and all of Plato, and so on and so forth, just because each exhibited a glaring blind spot in one area or another. Each of us would like to think that we think for ourselves, and can therefore take the good out of somebody else’s work and leave out the bad. There’s no disgrace in that, and there isn’t always a need to re-invent the wheel.

    Your argument from etymology is not very convincing, if only because of (i) there being several less far-reaching accounts, as for example here, here, or here; (ii), the etymological origins of the Greek term, “dikaisyne,” were somewhat different; and (iii) ordinary usage, though linked to the original root, has been known to evolve over time.

    My own conception comes close to that developed by Rawls, as per here, for instance, especially as regards the primacy of the institutional (as opposed to the individual) as the main locus of “justice.” All told, however, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. If you want to be able to evaluate cultures and moral orders of different communities, you’ve got to be able to do so in terms of some independent standard. And, for better or worse, justice it is.

  146. Foot and company connect to Aristotle and Plato through Aquinas (who condoned slavery, but wasn’t as enthusiastic about it as Plato and Aristotle.)

    I have seen some gestures in the recommended reading towards a concept of justice which resembles the ‘moral order’ I mentioned some time ago, which was based on the materialistic idea of community survival. However, many, many communities have survived for centuries while practicing slavery and other things which most of us would find unjust. So I don’t think the problem of justice has been solved for us to the extent needed for the evaluation of ideologies and political practices — to my knowledge, we do not have a measure of justice grounded in material facts which everyone can observe. It seems we are left with ‘sentiment’ and intuition, which would be all right if we were going to treat justice as we do art and religion, but we have demanded much more of it. Everyone can’t have his own justice; it has to be universalized.

  147. roger nowosielski

    There appears to be a certain circularity, or inconsistency, about your argument, or at least about how you try to get from point A to point B. On the one hand, you say that we need a conception of justice that would be in accord with, or based upon, some materialistic idea of community survival; and then right after, you admit that many, many communities have survived which practicing slavery, for instance, and other, equally abhorrent and morally reprehensible things. So once again, we’re back to the notion that the required conception of justice must go beyond the mere idea of survival but must concern itself with a manner of life and a certain quality of that survival.

    My second problem with your argument: while it’s true that justice has to be universalized (i.e., everyone can’t have his own justice), that is not the same thing as saying that “in order for justice to be universalized and to serve as a reliable measure of rightness or wrongness of ideologies and political practices, there has to obtain a near-universal agreement or consensus about what justice is or the material facts which are presumed to ground it.” Eventually, of course, it is to be hoped that more and more people will come to subscribe to a “more enlightened” conception of justice — by virtue of moral growth, better education, or simply exposure to “new” ideas (just like more and more people are prone to accept the idea of same-sex unions nowadays than, say, fifty years ago) — for the arc of the moral universe, though long, bends towards justice. But this isn’t to say we’re at this point today, nor it is to say that given the absence of the kind of consensus you’re looking for, we are not in a position to avail ourselves of the “more enlightened” conceptions. For the time being, at least, we’ve got to accept the stubborn fact that some may be simply unwilling or unable to embrace the more correct conception(s), but why should that stop us from being able to make reasonable judgments about the state of society here and now?

    The very idea of making judgments presupposes precisely the kind of things you want to eliminate (an honest or at times less-than-honest difference of opinion). That’s how the concept is meant to function. But the kinds of preconditions and requirements you stipulate in order for us even to be able to make judgments renders the very idea null and void: for indeed, if we had such a consensus, the very grammar of the concept would evaporate. There’d be no need whatever to make judgments since everyone would agree.

    You yourself say of practicing slavery that “most of us would find unjust.” How can you single out slavery as the one item about which most everyone would agree and stop then and there? Surely, there are other “items” concerning which most everyone would agree. Must I enumerate them?

  148. If we’re going to evaluate an ideology or program according to X, we have to have a pretty good idea of what X is. In the case of survival, we do. In the case of artistic and religious expression, we avoid having to specify the content of X and just leave room for it. When X is justice, however, we can’t do that.

    If we don’t know what justice is, outside of circular definitions such as that given by Aristotle, we can’t use it. I use slavery as an example because, for thousands of years, almost everyone said slavery was just, including the biggest big deals of philosophy. Then, suddenly, it wasn’t just any more, it was an abomination. But this seems to be a religious or intuitive opinion. So how do we know the arc of history bends toward justice, when we don’t know what justice is? How do we know we’re right and Aristotle and all his fellow big deals were wrong? That’s the problem, at least if we’re going to stick to material facts, evidence, and reason.

  149. roger nowosielski

    But we do have a pretty good idea of what justice is. Your very example of slavery, which you cite as a kind of practice most of us would regard as unjust, disproves the very point you’re trying to make.

    Why do we think slavery unjust? Obviously, because we do believe in sovereignty and moral equivalence of persons. To press on, why do we believe that one percent vs. ninety-nine percent is an unjust distribution of wealth and income in a society? Because we believe that no matter what the actual differences may be as to different persons’ abilities, natural talent, etc, which result in their differential contributions to the well-being of a society, the 99 vs. 1 percent split is not a true reflection of the actual differences and that, therefore, other things come into play which determine the distribution of the pie, things such as uneven playing field, unfair advantages for some people in the society as opposed to other people, and so an and so forth. So of course we can do precisely the very thing you assert we cannot do: which is to say, we can specify the content and some of the guiding principles. The fact that not everyone would agree with our percentages — e.g., as to what the actual distribution of the shares ought to be — doesn’t mean that they would disagree that the distribution ought to be fair, corresponding to the actual contributions people make rather than being allotted on any arbitrary or, worse yet, preferential kind of basis — and so on and so forth. One thing about justice, it is supposed to be impartial.

    Further, to cite from Rawls now,

    “. . .each person possesses an inviolability founded on justice that even the welfare of society as a whole cannot override. For this reason justice denies that the loss of freedom for some is made right by a greater good shared by others. It does not allow that the sacrifices imposed on a few are outweighed by the larger sum of advantages enjoyed by many. Therefore in a just society the liberties of equal citizenship are taken as settled; the rights secured by justice are not subject to political bargaining or to the calculus of social interests.”

    I find much of this description uncontroversial. We do have a pretty good idea what justice is, even though we may disagree on some of the particulars.

  150. No, my example of slavery shows that a lot of people, including most of those supposed to be the brightest and the best, thought slavery was good and just. After several thousand years of this firm belief, it suddenly went out of fashion in the 19th century. But maybe it will come back in fashion. Who knows?

    I myself believe that the only just distribution is a communist distribution and that the only just social order is an egalitarian social order. Hardly anyone in the world agrees with me, so I am not going to proceed on the basis of a supposed consensus with my fellow humans, because it doesn’t exist. These same humans, or rather, their immediate ancestors, are the ones who almost all believed in slavery until suddenly they didn’t. They still believe in domination, inequality, private wealth, and the wars which such things make inevitable. When these wars seem to be to their advantage or that of their tribe, they call them ‘just’.

    I’d like to find a materialist definition of justice because then, instead of fighting over the concept, we could refer to the objective material world, which patiently awaits our attention. And we could use it to judge political programs, parties, theories, and ideologies. But I don’t see one at the moment.

  151. roger nowosielski

    My argument isn’t at all about consensus as a necessary requirement about what is and what is not justice. When I used the expression, “we believe that such and such…” it was only to state the facts of the case, not to provide any kind of validation to the effect that slavery or the 99 vs. 1 percent distribution of the economic pie are unjust.

    You say in the middle of your comment, “so I am not going to proceed on the basis of a supposed consensus with my fellow humans” (when it comes to what I believe to be just in this or that case), and that’s quite right: you shouldn’t. But then, in closing, you’re clearly looking for some such consensus, and believe it can and will be reached once the concept of justice is based on some “objective material world.” Why do you suppose now such a consensus would be easier to reach if justice were defined in terms of some “objective material world”? Simply by virtue of you using the expression?

    The very notion of an “objective material world” is a loaded one, especially in this context. What exactly are the facts of the case in this instance, facts of some “objective material world” that would correspond to such “objective” propositions as “2 + 2 = 4” or “this is a hand”? Thus far, only one such “objective” and primitive fact comes to mind as having emerged in the course of this discussion: “there is life.” But notice, as soon as you posit life itself (and sustenance of life, by implication) as the central object/aim/goal of any moral system and culture, the very proposition, “there is life” ceases to function at that simple, “objective” level you’d like it to function and becomes “value-laden.” So even the kind of objective features of everyday, material world that you’re looking for, the kind of features about which everyone would agree, are not as unproblematic as you think. (Which isn’t to say our “value-laden” propositions are not “objective,” only that they are not objective in the kind of sense you’d like them to be: they’re more prone to disagreement than propositions of the kind “2 + 2 = 4” or “this is a hand.”

    The problem with your very search for a concept of justice that would serve you as you’d like it to serve you is that you’re looking for a concept that would be bereft of any evaluative content. But there is no such animal, and if there is, it would have nothing to do with evaluating or with making judgments or with justice. The very idea of justice presupposes the activity of making judgments, of making valuations. We may disagree about what the standard is or what it ought to be, and that’s fine. But we cannot disagree about the fact that justice is about making judgments, good, bad or indifferent, but judgments nonetheless. What you seem to be looking for is a chimera.

  152. What I like about the material world, for political analysis, is that almost everyone agrees that it exists and has certain features and attributes. Where people disagree, there are methods for resolving many of the disagreements. (I account propositions such as ‘a community must nurture and acculturate its young, or it will die’ as materialistic, even if it lacks mathematical precision and proof.)

    However, when we come to justice, it is pretty clear to me that people do not agree as to its content at least. Across time, it is clear that people have disagreed fundamentally about slavery, even though almost nobody cares for it now. There are other things about which people still disagree fundamentally, such as Welfare. Rawls says it’s just, Nozick says it’s unjust. You know what I think.

    So if some fellow comes along and says ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his need’ and we want to analyze this proposal according to justice, how are we going to go about it so as to come up with a properly universal verdict?

  153. roger nowosielski

    Well, the kind of things you’re looking for, things about which you could formulate “objective” propositions about “the material world,” are needs (as opposed to desires or wants). So if you take life itself (or the value of life, more precisely) as axiomatic, to include therewith all life-sustaining functions, then needs (or at least some of the needs) are directly related to sustenance of life.

    But even here, we’re running into problems because, as per your last comment, for example, there are some who are opposed to a society providing a safety net, even as regards some of the most basic, physical needs such as food or shelter, on the grounds that they deem it unjust. And we’re surely going to run into a far grater problem than this once we start talking about “higher-level” needs, as per Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, for instance — such as the need of self-actualization. So you surely perceive the magnitude of the problem, no matter how you cut it.

    In any case, the point I keep on stressing over and over again is that you can’t take the making of judgments out of the justice concept: it’s an integral part of it. And the making of judgments can never be like the measuring of a distance in meters or in yards, or of time in hours, minutes or seconds. The inevitability of there being a difference of opinion, that, too, is an integral part of the concept.

  154. Basically, I’m skeptical of the use of justice in evaluating political theories and practices because its contents, its specifics, vary widely from user to user. The situation is as with art and religion: people ‘need’ or at least strongly desire these things, but do not agree on the specifics. In the case of art and religion, we can avoid conflict by letting everyone have his or her own art or religion (although this was not always the case). But, usually, those interested in justice make universal claims for their versions.

    One possible provisional solution is what we observe in constitutional liberal democracy: everyone can maintain a separate idea of justice, but the powers of the state can be invoked to execute only a provisional general or common concept of justice as determined by supposedly democratic procedures, in a strictly limited field of action. We know this method has serious faults and failures, but it might serve as a basis of comparison with other proposals.

  155. Patel uses the (quantifiable) concept of food security to objectify the survival criterion. See his work with Via Campesina,

  156. roger nowosielski

    Well, Anarcissie, you’ve come full circle. You still talk about the need to be able to evaluate political activities and programs, but throw away the very concept of evaluating. If I didn’t know any better, I would have taken you for an accomplished sophist. And no, I don’t cherish the role of having played Socrates.

    Thanks for the ride, though.

  157. On the contrary. We can evaluate what we might call ‘survival content’ and ‘freedom content’ (in the case of art and religion — the extent to which one can do as one pleases in these realms.) It’s ‘justice content’ (merit, right, due, righteousness, etc. applied to whole communities or their leadership, or to proposals or ideologies) that is problematical because of its demand for universality and, I suppose, its often rather vague definitions. I’m not saying the problems can’t be cured.

  158. While far from universally accepted, many would agree that a community which locks up large numbers of its members has a problem with justice. We could thus posit that how well a community places on the justice meter is inversely proportional to its incarceration (or its equivalent) rate giving justice a material foundation…so, how are Venezuelan prisoners faring?

    • It would seem to have a problem with social order, anyway. People might ‘have to’ be locked up because they found the existing social order, just or not, intolerable, and resorted to crime. However, in the U.S. many people have been locked up for victimless crimes, like drug use while Black. Apparently a majority of their fellow citizens think it is just to lock them up. Going by sociological estimates of drug use, many of that majority are, themselves, users of illegal drugs.

  159. roger nowosielski

    I don’t know anymore what things would count for Anarcissie as relevant indices of the “justice meter”; nor do I know anymore, going now by her own accounts, whether any kind of consensus is required.

    After having deconstructed the concept, she seems to balk at any kind of reconstruction, finding it “unusable.” I’m completely demoralized.

    • It’s a difficult question, and we get little help from the ancients and the classics. One might start with fairness, I suppose, which can be defined materialistically as applying the same rules to all, or something along those lines.

  160. roger nowosielski

    I’m going to respond by reiterating a number of loosely related points.

    1. There is no need to keep on speaking of justice as “materialistically defined.” We have already agreed that a community’s moral order necessarily concerns itself with life and life-sustenance functions as its primary value, a value from which all other values can be said to properly derive. And since the notion of justice, insofar as it is being applied as a yardstick, in order to see how well or how poorly does a given community measure up to its avowed goals and objectives, it, too, by derivation, is “materialistically defined.”

    1.1 Nonetheless, while trying to stay true to the idea of a materialistically-based concept of justice, I suggested the notion of “need” as one that’s most directly connected to life-sustenance functions. Even here, however, I observed that no matter how close we may wish to be, if only for strategic purposes, in order to stick to life-maintaining functions, functions, in other words, which most directly impact life itself and the well-being of life, we’re not to expect a consensus since some are always bound to disagree, for whatever valid or invalid reason, not only with respect to some of our high-level needs (such as the need of self-actualization) but also with respect to needs which address the most basic concerns, such as for food or shelter (which should seriously makes us question the importance of consensus in such matters). I can’t stress, however, how irritating it must to be making what may pass for a viable suggestion only to get zilch for response.

    2. Since the purported object of an “objective critique” (via the justice concept) is to be able to be determine, to the extent possible, how well or how poorly does a given community fare when it comes to fulfilling its express aims and objectives as given by its self-proclaimed moral order, it stands to reason that the standard (as to what is just or unjust) be independent of the given community’s own standard for performing such tasks, if the object of the critique is be critical of itself. Which means that our hypothetical community’s laws, customs and mores, themselves must be subject to an objective critique (evaluation is another term) since its primary object, its ideology, is to validate the existing moral order as just, never to question it. And It also goes without saying that the so-called independent observer, or the judge, whether it be Anarcissie or “troll” or yours truly, must remain independent and, to the extent possible, impartial, even though he or she may be a member of the community that’s being critiqued. Which again goes to say that the matter of reaching consensus in things such as pronouncing a judgment on a community, or the like, falls by the wayside; it’s of no account. It’s strictly the prerogative of the judge, the one who’s making a judgment, to stand by his or her decision, right or wrong. That’s part of the concept.

    3. What’s also part of the concept is that justice is meant to be understood as a goal, an objective, as a limit of sorts, a limit whose aim is perfection. And that part of saying this is to say that while no judgment can be perfect, perfection is always the aim.

    4. Even the idea of justice as fairness, as good a starting point as any, it not without its difficulties if by fairness, for example, we simply mean “applying the same rules to all.” For surely, there are times when application of the same rules (to all) misses the mark – as when it comes, for example, to such practices as “affirmative action” or, generally speaking, the idea of making reparations for past wrongs, even in cases which come down to taking full account of the extenuating circumstances precipitating an act, circumstances which may or may not weigh on the pronounced judgment by way of mercy.

    5. Lastly, I’d like to say that the complexities of the justice concept simply reflect the complexities of life. The concept of justice is complex because life is complex. And further, and I’m being thoroughly Wittgensteinian here, that regardless of what the ancients have or have not said to enlighten us on the subject, our language game, the language game of justice, with all its complexities and nuances and cues, is surely as good a source as any, there being none better, if we’re ever to understand what justice is or what it is meant to be. To claim complete ignorance in this respect, especially in light of the multiplicity of real-life examples, both in thought and in deed, is to claim to be excluded from the human race, the form of life.

    6. In any event, I don’t intend to say anything more on the subject unless aspects of this argument are dealt with.

  161. I’m sort of off the grid at the moment.

    • roger nowosielski

      Just try to understand, it seemed both of us were going in circles, so I thought it best to restate my position in hopes of finding a common ground.

  162. roger nowosielski

    A modern translation by Anne Carson, a review.

  163. roger nowosielski

    Interesting passage from Euben’s The Tragedy of Political Theory:

    Like the heroic ethic, the life of the household and the dignity of those who sustain it are essential to a fully human life. The house is a space in which the continuity of generations is maintained. But the triumph of the oikos is as dangerous as the victory of the heroic ethic. That is because exclusive preoccupation with instinctive attachment, ancient traditions, and biological life is too confining an ethos for living a fully just life. Its intensity precludes resolution of the dilemmas that it generates, and its narrow attachment to generation and life itself disregards more comprehensive activities and realms. In these terms, heroism and home, men and women need each other as conditions of their distinctive integrity. Each without the other is myopic and incomplete. 23 In the absence of reciprocity each goes to extremes and excess, thereby overthrowing house, city, and nature. To flourish, men and women must limit and complement each other. Mutuality is what justice means and what a rightly ordered polis enshrines (though this is not the literal meaning of dike).

    “Justice and the Oresteia,” p. 75

    23 (footnote)

    Aeschylus was hardly a “feminist” (though it is possible to conclude from the Oresteia that the only way to insure reciprocity between heroism and location is by men and women sharing both). But one could argue that he is intent on reestablishing the “feminine” as an essential aspect of collective life against the domination of the polis; that the reciprocity he counsels is not a mask for domination; and that, as I will argue later, if recast in nongender terms, the argument has real force.

  164. roger nowosielski

    “The Greek Concept of Justice”, a review article from JSTOR.

    Good on shelf for three weeks.

  165. Back.

    I suppose we could just move ahead to the proposed objects (ideologies, political proposals, etc.), and come back to look at the tools used on them should these prove unsatisfactory.

  166. roger nowosielski

    For example?

  167. Fanon, or the Bolivarians.

  168. roger nowosielski

    Well. since we’ve been sort of off topic, I’d like first to tie up a number of loose ends before it gets away from me (as a preliminary to what I envisage as a future article), This will take a number of posts.

    First, thanks to Shenonymous, the following is the entire article on “The Greek Concept of Justice” to which I linked a few posts ago. And in this connection, I’d like to make a point or two.

    Number one, the article is not what I expected it to be, unless text exegesis is your cup of tea. The points made are interesting in their own right, but still . . ..

    Two aspects, however, deserve mention:

    (a) The idea that for the early Greeks, of the Homeric age and immediately thereafter, the concept of arete was most likely the highest virtue, or at any rate higher than that of justice. As an aside, it’s noteworthy that we have to wait for Aeschylus, who had come considerably later than Homer, to work out some of the implications of the Homeric myth in the Oresteia, culminating as it were in the formation of Areopagus, a human court, to issue a verdict as regards Orestes’s eventual acquittal. So it’d seem that the emergence of justice as one of the supreme Greek virtues coincides with a fully-developed polis.

    (b) The reviewer brings Wittgenstein to bear on the picture, and I quote here in full:

    (3) In order to possess a concept of anything, is it necessary to be able to produce a philosophically satisfactory definition of it? Socrates, Hobbes, Havelock, and others have thought so; but in the late twentieth century it is not necessary to agree without discussion. Havelock’s emphasis on grammar and syntax inevitably leads the reader to think of Wittgenstein and the “grammar” of a word; but there is no mention of Wittgenstein in Havelock’s work, and Havelock’s view of the relation of what can be said in a language to the language’s grammar and syntax seems to be quite different from Wittgenstein’s. For Havelock, that the grammar and syntax of a language cannot prevent certain sentences from being constructed in it is a weakness; for Wittgenstein, it is the characteristic of language which makes language possible. Havelock yearns for terms defined clearly, once and for all; Wittgenstein believes it to be of the essence of language that, outside certain
    clearly defined areas such as mathematics, definitions of this kind cannot in
    principle be supplied. Again, Wittgenstein certainly does not agree with Socrates,Hobbes, or Havelock in supposing that one may be said to have a concept of a word solely if one is able to produce a clear definition of it; he would certainly not have denied that anyone who throughout his life correctly uses a term, dikaios or any other, possesses the relevant concept.8 Havelock is of course under no compulsion to agree with Wittgenstein; but his book several times reaches a point at which it would have been valuable to discuss Wittgenstein’s views. It seems permissible to doubt, then, whether Havelock successfully makes a case for the impossibility of timeless definitions in Homer simply as a result of early Greek grammar and syntax, or that the subject of his book is the concept of justice rather than the possibility of defining justice in a manner acceptable to him.

    8. (footnote): Wittgenstein wrote no work of political philosophy. For recent interesting discussions of Hobbes, Plato and others in the light of Wittgenstein’s philosophy, see J. W. Danford, Wittgenstein and Political Philosophy (Chicago, 1978).

    The closing of the review may well deserve citing as well:

    (4) Lastly, Havelock may certainly maintain without fear of contradiction that the definition of justice in the Republic does not exactly resemble anyone else’s definition of justice, and that the justice of the psuche is “internalized.” But if we do not equate Greek morality with dikaiosune and remember that arete is more important (and not only in Homer) in early Greek, then an internalization of arete may claim to be an internalization of Greek morality. Now when Aeschylus
    writes of being agathos in respect of one’s psuche (Persae 442) or of being kakosplancknos (Septem 237) he is not referring to justice but to an important Greek arete, courage; and it seems difficult to deny that courage is being internalized. Again, when Euripides’ Orestes (Electra 367-90) reflects on the nature of euandria, he rejects external qualities, and says that courage, administrative skills, and selfcontrol lie in one’s nature and excellence of spirit, eupsuchia; and more examples could readily be produced. There are of course many important differences from Plato; but it is perhaps worth pointing out that earlier Greek authors in a sense internalize valued moral qualities.

    I have devoted most of this review article to disagreement with Havelock’s
    theses, and have indeed not exhausted my stock of disagreements. The work is, however, valuable and important, and well merits reading by anyone who is
    interested in the ancient Greeks, philosophy, oral culture, or human behavior in general. Any reader is likely to find some of his presuppositions challenged, and challenged in a manner that cannot be ignored. Where one disagrees, the need to think out why one disagrees will demand a clarification of one’s own presuppositions and reasons for holding them; and this is always a worthwhile activity.

    In any case, though, unless philology is your cup of tea, the reader may as well start somewhere in the middle of page 266 and read the article to its conclusion (two pages or so) and still get at what I consider the crucial points.

  169. roger nowosielski

    Another point worthy of note, this one from another source:

    I. A Final Postscript

    Human beings think about justice as a rational concept, institutionalized in their communities, but they also have strong emotions about justice, both within the family and the community. The revenge ethic harnessed to those powerful feelings in Aechylus’s play stands exposed as something that finally violates our deepest sense of any possibility for enduring justice in our community, for it commits us a never-ending cycle of retributive killing and over-killing.

    The Oresteia ends with a profound and very emotionally charged hope that the community can move beyond such a personally powerful emotional basis for justice and, with the sanction of the divine forces of the world, establish a system based on group discussion, consensus, juries (through what Athena calls persuasion)–in a word, can unite a conceptual, reasonable understanding of justice with our most powerful feelings about it. This work is, as Swinburne observed, one of the most optimistic visions of human life ever written, for it celebrates a dream we have that human beings in their communities can rule themselves justly, without recourse to blood vengeance, satisfying mind and heart in the process.

    At the same time, however, Aeschylus is no shallow liberal thinker telling us to move beyond our brutal and unworkable traditions. For he understands that we cannot by some sleight of hand remove the Furies from our lives.They are ancient goddesses, eternally present. Hence, in the conclusion of the play the Furies, traditional goddesses of vengeance, are incorporated into the justice system, not excluded. And the powers they are given are significant: no city can thrive without them. Symbolically, the inclusion of the Furies in the final celebration, their new name (meaning “The Kindly Ones”), and their agreement fuse in a great theatrical display elements which were in open conflict only a few moments before.

    It’s as if the final image of this play stresses for us that in our justice we must strive to move beyond merely personal emotion (the basis of personal revenge) towards some group deliberations, but in the new process we must not violate our personal feelings or forget they have their role to play. If justice is to be a matter of persuasion, it cannot violate the deepest feelings we have (and have always had) about justice. If such violation takes place, the city will not thrive.

    Every time I read the conclusion of this great trilogy, I think of how we nowadays may well have lost touch with that great insight: that justice is not just a matter of reasonable process and debate but also a matter of feeling. For a city to thrive justice must not only be reasonably done but must be felt to be done. Once our system starts to violate our feelings for justice, our city does not thrive. The Furies will see to that.


    A conclusion from Lecture on the Oresteia by Ian Johnston.

  170. And so, one might say, because the devotés of Athena did not keep her bargain with the Furies, Fanon (and many others) called them to awaken. But they were already awake.

  171. roger nowosielski

    Aren’t they always awake, the passions, that is?

  172. If we’re talking about the Furies, we’re not talking about ordinary passions.

    At the end of The Eumenides, Aeschylus has Athena defeat the Mutterrecht of the Furies — which in this case is to exact blood for blood — and with them the remnants of the old matriarchal order in which familial relations through the mother are of paramount importance. These are to be replaced by the new rational, patriarchal order of the state or polis. Athena is quite explicit about patriarchy: ‘It is my duty to give the final judgment and I shall cast my vote for
    Orestes. For there was no mother who gave me birth; and in all things, except
    for marriage, whole-heartedly I am for the male and entirely on the
    father’s side. Therefore, I will not award greater honor to the death of
    a woman who killed her husband, the master of the house. Orestes wins, even if the vote comes out equal.
    ‘ (The Furies had argued that the murder of one’s mother was more significant than the murder of a husband, because the former violates a blood relation whereas the latter does not.) However, Athena buys the consent of the Furies (who still have great power) by promising them an honored place within the state, just as, no doubt, the patriarchs promised their wives and mothers an honored and significant place within the household.

    Algeria was one of the places where the promise was not kept. France claimed to be a liberal, rational state committed to liberty, equality and fraternity, but it did not treat the ancestral Algerians according to these principles. Thus the Furies returned. But the French were hardly the first to profess respect for Athena’s promise but neglect to keep it, and they were hardly the first to suffer accordingly.

  173. roger nowosielski

    I never realized I’d strike a chord. And all along I thought you were an anti-classicist.

    Of course the Furies were defending matriarchy and blood relations. Prior to the polis, there was no such a thing as a murder charge, if it wasn’t pursued and retaliated by kinship. That was the idea of justice at the time. As to Athena’s male attributes, I’ll look up the appropriate quote (although we must distinguish her from Apollo who was a chauvinist male). Shall we say, provisionally (and aside from the gender issue) that hers was a voice of reason?

    Interesting that you mention Algiers. The same applies to Haiti. Its people took the slogans we associate with the French Revolution more seriously and more universally than the French themselves have. Surprise surprise.

  174. Athena is the voice of reason if patriarchy and the state are reason. Athena sprang full-grown from the brow of Zeus, a patriarchal dream.

    Of the classical world, I find some of the art, some of the science, some of the mathematics, some of the engineering, quite remarkably good, especially given what they had to work with. The philosophy is mostly awful, although not as bad as Hegel. I ponder that sometimes. Maybe it has something to do with the slavery.

    However, much of this is veering off to lit-crit or cult-crit. I was going to approach Fanon or the Bolivarians in a much more limited, more sober, one might even say Apollonian mode: as politics, where we are interested in the material outcome of material actions, and probably have to use Athena’s dubious screwdrivers and wrenches to get at them.

  175. roger nowosielski

    1. This “veering off” to literary- or cultural criticism you speak of cannot be altogether avoided since we’re dealing here with a text which, to the extent that it lends itself within reason to charitable readings, may shed the right kind of light on the concept of justice. And ultimately, no matter how you cut it, I don’t think we’ll be able to dispense with that concept if we’re serious about subjecting political programs, actions, and ideologies to incisive criticism. And we could do far worse with most any other text than the Oresteia.

    In any event, this “detour” is only temporary. Another comment or two and I’ll be done.

    2. Euben’s take on Athena’s contributions (in the play):

    Unlike the unconfined daring of Thucydides’ Athenians, those in the Eumenides are still patient with their inheritance. At the play’s end the Athenians are continuing the task begun in the opening scene when, in alliance with Apollo, they created a civilization out of a wilderness. But the ending, though tied to the beginning, enlarges and changes what was initiated. For now the Athenians are allied with Athena, a goddess who is both female and male and respectful of old and young alike.

    Athena reconciles past, present, and future through instituting the new court
    that gives place to the Furies. Through her good offices once antagonistic
    forces and characters are partnered in a manner that enhances the exercise of
    their respective prerogatives. By her guidance each is able to achieve an efficacy unattainable in their singularity and opposition. It is Athena who shows how the ancient traditions are salutary boundaries for the “reckless pride” of the mortals, how inheritance is a necessary limit on the striving for innovation, and how the dark instinctive passions of age-old Furies invigorate dreams of identity, equity, and balance. As a dialogue between the contemporary city and its formative legend, tragedy itself is a way of healing the breach between generations

    These examples suggest that injustice in the broadest sense is pushing one’s claims too far, seeking mastery and domination instead of recognizing the legitimacy of what is other. Injustice is a part masquerading as the whole, like some tyrant claiming absolute sovereignty precluding the participation of others. For instance, both Apollo and the Furies claim to be the exclusive arbiter of the trilogy’s conflicts. Like Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra each seeks to banish the other, unaware that in opposing what seems opposed they also oppose themselves. For the world of men and women cannot exist without them both. Each has a rightful share in a whole that their just reciprocity alone completes. Claiming too much for themselves and recognizing too little in their adversaries, both dishonor justice and destroy the balance of nature.

    If I am right about these examples and Aeschylus’ idea of injustice, then the
    acquittal of Orestes does not represent the triumph of what is new, male, progressive, civilized, rational, enlightened, and the polis over what is old, feminine, regressive, primitive, irrational, Archaic, and the oikos. Nor is it a case of the male representing unbinding (will), center, Greek, order, future, rule, and clarity triumphing over the female as binding (fate), limit (frontier, interior), Barbarian, chaos, unruly (misrule), and obscurity (riddle). In the play Apollo does not win anymore than the Furies lose. Something else and different is happening. What that something is depends on how we understand the character and arguments of the male Apollo (as well as of Clytaemnestra, the unnatural woman, and of Athena, the virgin father-born goddess who opts for the male).

    Apollo is harsh and intransigent. He would obliterate the Furies if he could and argues for the male — that he is the only true parent — in a way that eliminates the very idea of matricide. In part this harshness is is due to the fact that Apollo’s oracle must be fulfilled. But it is not clear why the realization of that oracle demands the posture and tone he takes. No doubt his bluntness and threats establish an important contrast to the words and persuasion of Athena and may even be a necessary dramatic and theological condition for them. Still, one could argue that Apollo’s intransigence is counterproductive; that is is Athena and her ways, not he or his, that actually bring the oracle to pass. (pp. 76-78) And the argument continues for another couple of pages, till the middle of page 81 (as per link to the pdf text provided earlier.


    Needless to say, aside from this, what I consider, gender-neutral reading, there are other readings: e.g., the “progressivist” interpretation by George Thomson (Aeschylus and Athens), namely, that Aeschylus “regarded the subordination of women, quite correctly, as an indispensable condition of democracy” (one could make a similar argument on behalf of almost anything, including slavery, I suppose); and the feminist reading (such as the one offered by Anne Carson’s modern translation, also see a number of posts below). But that’s only to be expected.

    3. “Athena is the voice of reason if patriarchy and the state are reason.”

    But surely, the contemporaries of Aeschylus had no reason to regard the polis as though representing “unreason.” Initially, at least, if was an improvement from the pre-political stage where vengeance and retribution, “an eye for an eye” dictum were the principles of justice. Athens wasn’t an empire yet. The bad experience, the disintegration of the polis, all that lay ahead.

  176. The Furies take an eye for an eye; but the state takes an eye simply because it is the state. Permit me to doubt whether this is necessarily an improvement for everyone concerned.

    I am pretty confident that Athena is devoted to patriarchy; after all, she says so. It is true it is supposed to be an enlightened patriarchy. Knowing that, regardless of the patriarchs and their will, the Furies will still have witchy power to curse and to plague, she offers them a deal — an office at HQ. The deal is not very relevant, however, because it has been broken over and over again, and the Furies have long since issued forth to fulfil their threats and promises. Algeria was just one example which I picked because of Fanon. Poor Athena has about as much luck as Cassandra.

  177. roger nowosielski

    If we’re to take the trilogy at face value, as representing an endless cycle of retributions and vengeance, then relegating tribal disputes for adjudication by, we must presume, an impartial body of jurors (and yes, not in Athens but today, in some parts of the world, women can certainly sit on the jury). then it is an improvement. Besides, instituting the process of adjudication and dispute-resolution need not require the state; it can be done on a smaller scale, on a community-by-community basis.

    I’m not going to get at this point into the matriarchy-patriarchy dispute. As I said, I’m pressing for a charitable reading of the text. And since we are dealing, after all, with a work of art, I’ll take the poetic licence: historical accuracy or inaccuracy is of lesser relevance here than what we can squeeze out of Aeschylus, with what the text can possibly support. Think of it as a thought experiment.

  178. roger nowosielski

    In any case, as I was going to say, I don’t think our differences on these points are significant enough so as to preclude future progress.

  179. roger nowosielski

    One final comment on the play before we get to the screwdrivers and wrenches.

    I think we can see here a transformation of justice — or at least can distinguish between two different conceptions or phases. The first is suggested by the trilogy’s resolution — which is to say, the forming of a jury to adjudicate disputes within the context of a given polity/social organization; and it is presumed here that the polity is fair and square, or at least, that it itself is not subject to a critique as to whether it is just or not. What we want of course is a conception which is independent enough of the polity so as to be able to critique the manner in which that polity administers justice. Both conceptions concern institutions in the Rawlsian sense, not persons.

    And as a postscript, even as I was pressing for a charitable reading of the trilogy, I’m still very mindful of Euripides’ take on the play, and I quote here (i} from the Nation review of Anne Carson’s translation:

    . . . the movement of Carson’s trilogy, away from the clear ideology of Aeschylus’ Oresteia toward the much more complex, ambiguous world of Euripides’ Orestes, seems pertinent to the current political climate. The characters are saved only by divine intervention, and Euripides mocks the notion that law or politics, or any pre-existing system, could prevent catastrophe. Clytemnestra’s father, Tyndareus, protests that there was, of course, already a system of law in place that ought to have prevented his daughter’s death: Orestes could quite easily have thrown her out of the house without resorting to murder. “All this killing, it’s like animals,” he complains. “How can civilization survive?” Civilization seems to survive only by the skin of its teeth, and only on those rare occasions when people are able to choose not to behave like animals. Politics, laws, even divine bailouts can’t help us if we insist on behaving badly.

    (Of course, Euripides speaks here from the vantage point of hindsight, having experienced the degeneration of the polis.)

    And (ii), from the introduction to the translation itself:

    Violence in Agamemnon emanates spectacularly from one particular word: justice. Notice how often this word recurs and how many different angles it has. Almost everyone in the play claims to know what justice is and to have it on their side–Zeus, Klytaimestra, Agamemnon, Aigisthos and (according to Kassandra) Apollo. The many meanings of the word justice have shaped the history of the house of Atreus into a gigantic double bind. No one can stop the vicious cycle of vengeance that carries on from crime to crime in its name. The bloodyfaced Furies are its embodiment. I don’t think Aiskhylos wants to clarify the concept of justice in any final way, although lots of readers have seen this as the intention of his Oresteia overall. So far as Agamemnon goes, no definition is offered. The play shows that the word makes different sense to different people and how blinding or destructive it can be to believe your “justice” is the true one. This is not a problem with which we are unfamiliar nowadays. As Kassandra says, “I know that smell” (886, 983).


    So it’s not exactly as though I was necessarily disagreeing with you, just wanted to present the evolution of thinking, and of the concept, in a historical setting. I’ll try to resolve or deal with this tension in a future article, but that’s enough for now.

  180. I’m now going through The Wretched of the Earth. To begin, I read an article in Spanish connecting the Bolivarians with Fanon and apparently strongly romanticizing violence when performed by the right sort of people. The fact that the article was written by a person with a German name and a German email address did not impress me favorably. But onward….

  181. roger nowosielski

    I’m rereading the relevant chapter again since it’s been so long ago that it’s kind of hazy.

  182. roger nowosielski

    An interim question concerning a past comment.

    “I was going to approach Fanon or the Bolivarians in a much more limited, more sober, one might even say Apollonian mode: as politics, where we are interested in the material outcome of material actions . . . .”

    Could you elaborate a bit? While there is a sense in which the merit (“goodness”?) of an (material) action is measurable in terms of its intended (and sometimes unintended?) material results/consequences (or conversely, perhaps, discredited if the unintended consequences are not what we originally deemed them to be), how do you first, distinguish your procedure from a utilitarian schema; and two, how does it differ from either “ends justify the means” MO, or another MO whereby the unintended consequences, if they turn out to be “good,” justify the original intent? Either MO appears to fly in the face of what we’d normally consider as moral justification of actions.

    To wit, if, for example, some use of violence ends up resulting in a considerably better society, how then can you complain about use of violence at all if the intended (as well as unintended, perhaps) consequences of violence turn out to be, for the most part, beneficial? So not only are we faced here with some type of utilitarian schema (whereby the total good, insofar as the entire community is concerned, outweighs the bad and ought to therefore determine the right motivation for acting); in addition, it also appears to contradict your position (if I understand correctly) that you object to use of violence in principle.

    Secondly, I’d like to revisit troll’s earlier comment:

    “While far from universally accepted, many would agree that a community which locks up large numbers of its members has a problem with justice. We could thus posit that how well a community places on the justice meter is inversely proportional to its incarceration (or its equivalent) rate giving justice a material foundation…so, how are Venezuelan prisoners faring?”

    Along with “the (quantifiable) concept of food security to objectify the survival criterion,” another one of his earlier suggestions, perhaps he’s on to something when it comes to an “objective and material” measure or index of j justice within a given society — especially since we’re nowhere closer to agreeing what justice (in the requisite kind of sense) is than when we had started. You haven’t commented on this thus far.

    Sorry, troll, for not having given this matter the kind of attention it deserves: had to see my theoretical impulse to completion, I guess.

  183. If violence has ‘good’ results, materially speaking, whether intended or unintended, surely we should face that fact squarely and deal with it — for any reasonable definition of ‘good’. The scare-quotes signal my recognition that goodness may turn out to be ambiguous or contested. I understand that utilitarianism embodies a kind of circular logic in which some sort of good (as in ‘the greatest good for the greatest number’) is uncritically assumed. One may at last (or a lot sooner than that) come to the conclusion that goodness can be defined only for individuals by individuals, in some willful, religious or aesthetic way not susceptible to reason. Still, it seems worthwhile to at least collect the material facts so that, if necessary, we can agree to disagree on a solid foundation.

  184. roger nowosielski

    It looks to me, therefore, that your preferred way of proceding would be to examine each situation on its own merits, on a case-by-case basis; which is quite alright by me, especially since it reverberates the theme of this article, namely, that one size doesn’t fit all.

    This is of course sound, but it does appear to be dictated by your seeming reluctance, however slight, to appeal to universals. Ultimately, however, I doubt whether the appeal to universals could be dispensed with, for even when dealing with individual cases (such as the Bolivarian Revolution, in this instance), it’ll still be incumbent upon us to decide whether the results are or have been “good.” So how do you propose that we overcome that hurdle and arrive at some such decision? Certainly not only by counting noses, for if that were the case, the rise of the Third Reich would surely have met with popular acclaim; and we definitely cannot allow such a result to stand. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how this plays out.

    Also, you seem to suggest that “goodness can be defined only by individuals for individuals.” Of course that’s true, but why it must be so “in some … way not susceptible to reason”? it seems to me that we can go on a limb here if we must and say what we think constitutes a “good life.” And how else can we do that if not by enumerating some of the reasons? Needless to say, I do count aesthetic and/or moral considerations as regards what constitutes a good life as reasons, as some of the paramount reasons, in fact, but perhaps you do not.

    Is this where we disagree?

  185. I was thinking of ‘reason’ in the more restrictive sense of logic, reasoning, discourse, rhetoric — people talking to themselves and each other, and building up mental structures piece by piece. By contrast, aesthetic and religious thought (‘feelings’) are fundamentally intuitive. In conscious experience, the former is analytical and synthetic, whereas the latter springs ideas upon us often fully-formed. Consider Michelangelo’s remark that sculpture was simply a matter of cutting away the excess material surrounding the form of the statue within. That is, he saw the form of his works before they existed. No amount of reasoning, of mental construction, could produce that kind of integral vision. (There are, of course, many areas of mental life where both the intuitive and the rational modes function together.)

    In the case of evaluating goodness, the judgements of the evaluators are going to be affected by their common and separate points of view, conditions of life, experiences, beliefs, intuitions, cultural heritage, genetic constitution, and so on. Sometimes it becomes necessary to recognize that these may differ to such an extent that there is no way of producing agreement, even about my beloved materialistic realm. (You will recall what Hobbes said about what would happen to geometry books if their contents inconvenienced the powerful.)

    I don’t know what constitutes the good life for everyone. William Blake said ‘One law for Lion & Ox is oppression.’

    However, we can look at various ideologies and political proposals and draw some conclusions as to what they appear to lead toward.

  186. Speaking of morality, here’s an interesting and unresolved discussion still going on (I think) at Naked Capitalism: David Johnson: Revolutionizing Ethics.

  187. roger nowosielski

    Sharp guy. Here’s one key excerpt:

    “For those on the Left who see morality as mere class ideology, there’s not much more to say beyond revealing moral discourse for the sham that it is. But for those on the Left who, like myself, think moral claims are legitimate, exposing moral sentimentalism can serve a useful purpose.

    “Moral passions, I submit, are the most potent lever available for moving the body politic, especially in the context of America’s religious and moralized politics. If there’s an example in U.S. history of a mass political movement that did not depend on moral outrage at perceived injustice or wrongdoing, I’d like to know what it is. Those on the Left who dismiss morality as ideology should consider what they’re losing by abandoning this tool for radical change.”

    Where do you stand?

    • If you read down far enough in the comments you would see that I had contributed a brief mention of Wittgenstein’s critique-recursion problem. That problem buzzes around the article and the discussion because, in order to critique the ‘sentimentalists’ the author needs a metacritique. Some of those who commented on his article were eager to supply one, but a different one from the one implied by him, so the discussion now needed a metametacritique. The only escape, it seems, is into the unanalyzed, uncritiqued passions and intuitions, and we know how wrong those can go.

      Alternatively, I guess one can state one’s passions and intuitions at the outset as axioms, and see where that leads.
      I still guess a materialistic analysis of ideologies will prove useful.

      • roger nowosielski

        What I meant, “mere class ideology” or “something beyond”?

        • I think morality is genetically coded. Moral behavior is required for the survival of bands of intelligent, social animals; therefore, the impulses toward such behavior would be selected for in the evolution of the species. It would thus be experienced intuitively long before class and class ideologies were invented. It would also be reinforced socially (because this is also advantageous for survival) and the desire to reinforce it socially would probably also be selected for. This is one area in which I think sociobiology has something reasonable to say.

          If moral impulses arise from our genes, it is not surprising to find they are often ambiguous or in conflict. Evolution is messy. We can try to use rational methods to sort them out, but then (as noted above) we run into Witt’s conundrum.

  188. roger nowosielski

    1. I guess the answer is a qualified yes. More specifically, I was trying to get your assent concerning placement of morality vis-à-vis the Foucauldian dictum that there are no discourses of truth outside the regimes of power.

    Well, our moral language (or the discourse of moral kinds of truths) appears to form an exception. Not in that it cannot be (mis)used for ideological purposes, as David Johnson’s article amply demonstrates: anything can be used or misused, whether purposely or inadvertently, as when, for a example, a hammer is being used when a screwdriver would do – Wittgenstein’s tool analogy – either by a skillful carpenter acting out of spite, in the first instance, or by a shoddy worker in the second.

    The exception, properly speaking, arises due to the fact that our moral language, when properly used, can serve as an effective tool to undermine and/or discredit the all-too-often dominant regimes of truth & power. To wit, as Johnson argues in his seminal article, “moral claims are legitimate . . . [and] moral passions are the most potent lever available for moving the body politic . . . .”

    2. Does saying that “moral claims are legitimate” necessarily commit us to some form of essentialism (insofar as morality is concerned)? – that’s a sixty-four-thousand-dollar question.

    Offhand, we’d like to say no, because all questions concerning legitimacy must be taken in context: “legitimate” with respect to what? Insofar as there is a discernible difference between what is the case and what is purported to be the case, questions concerning legitimacy can rightfully arise: for example, is the authority of the state legitimate while it purports to be a government of the people, by the people, and for the people whereas, in effect, it is anything but?

    More specifically, perhaps, since all questions pertaining to legitimacy (in the most meaningful sense) ultimately come down to legitimacy of authority, the question we must ask is: Does the authority in question exceed the bounds originally allotted to it? And if it does, do we have the grounds for thinking it illegitimate.

    Consequently, the legitimacy of moral claims that Johnson is arguing for is being posited here against the suspect(ed) illegitimacy of all other claims, be they political, economic, or social. That’s the context! (Notice, however, that when push comes to shove, “moral claims,” and the legitimacy of moral claims, trump here the legitimacy of all other claims.)

    3. In keeping with modern-day philosophy of language, there is, in addition, a general kind of argument against essentialism; in particular, we could make use here of Wittgenstein’s notion of language games to this very purpose. And here, the idea is that all our truths are “contextual” (i.e., context-dependent) – which is to say, relative to, and contingent upon, our language games and, ultimately, our form of life. The “essentialism” thesis can be said to be defeated thus by restricting our truths to one world only, our world: i.e., since we don’t claim these truths to hold for all the possible worlds, only for our world, there are no essences.

    4. It may be useful at this point to distinguish between (i) language games, which, according to Wittgenstein, both ground and provide the proper context for all our talk, and (ii), such postmodernist notions as Foucault’s “regimes of power & truth” or, generally speaking, the idea of narratives and meta-narratives.

    Without pressing too much with the analytic-synthetic distinction, we may want to, for present purposes, highlight a difference between two kinds of claims and or statements: in the first category, we might include such propositions as “2 + 2 = 4,” or “The sun rises in the East,” or “A perjury is not a lie”; and in the second, “It is raining today,” or “Morality is genetically coded.” The first-cited (class of) statements – and I excluded here, for strategic purposes, such trivial tautologies as “A bachelor is an unmarried man” – are on the order of what Wittgenstein called “grammatical remarks,” depicting not so trivial (for often overlooked) conceptual connections within language games [or, as the case may be, mis(taken) connections across different language games]; the second-mentioned class of statements is comprised of such claims as simple empirical/observational statements as well as complex narratives or meta-narratives.

    Now, how does this distinction, between language games, on the one hand, and regimes of power & truth on the other, play out in the context of the present discussion?

    Well, although Foucault’s category of “regimes of truth” was pretty much inclusive, (inclusive enough, to say the least, to accommodate the so-called “disciplinary knowledges” under the general rubric – medicine, the hard sciences, et cetera), one gets a distinct impression that the very point of the classification was to draw our attention to the fact that all of the truth discourses enabled by said “disciplinary knowledges” were, at the very same time, guilty of propagating the regimes of power and truth in place.

    In short, the complaint was that under the guise of truth, these knowledges are masquerading in fact as the means of legitimating the regimes of power which sponsor them. More succinctly, perhaps, it is their (behind-the-scenes, unbeknownst to anyone) functioning as legitimizing meta-narratives, legitimizing the dominant regimes of power, which Foucault finds problematic and therefore deserving of our uttermost attention. By contrast, language games, insofar as they’re about the rules of the game, about the rules of what can and what can not be said with any given game, are relatively speaking ideologically-neutral. (Which isn’t to say, of course, that they’re not value-laden and need not therefore be examined for their intrinsic biases or whatever, or that they cannot be used for ideological purposes.)

    5. What are we to make, therefore, of the premise that “moral claims” (and legitimacy of moral claims) ought to take precedence over all other claims?
    What are we to make of the premise that moral critique – a better choice of words, I think – ought to take precedence and trump any other kind of critique? Are we committed thereby to some kind of (moral?) essentialism? I don’t think so. Why not just say that moral concerns – insofar as they’re about such things as “what constitutes a good life” and the like – are more comprehensive in scope and outreach than any other kind of concern, political or economic, and leave it at that?

    What would Foucault or Derrida say about the postulated supremacy of the moral kind of meta-narrative or moral kind of critique? I suppose either one would count such a narrative as one among many, labeling it an “emancipatory narrative.” But what about its presumed supremacy? Again, it being more comprehensive than any other is reason enough, I should think, to regard them as superior.

    6. I don’t see exactly how Wittgenstein’s conundrum, the so-called infinite regression- or the recursion problem, is a characteristic that is unique to the moral language game. As far as I am concerned, it’s applicable to all language games, all language in fact, by virtue of the elusive boundaries of all our concepts which are being fuzzy and less than fully-defined, always standing in need of refinement. That’s the nature of language.

    I suppose the main impetus for our so thinking, about the uniqueness of our moral language, that is, is that it stems from the fact that since our “moral impulses arise from our genes, it is not [all that]] surprising to find they are often ambiguous or in conflict [because] evolution is messy.”

    In response to that, I’d like to say that it’s not the evolution per se but life itself that is “messy,” messy insofar as a set of choices we’re presented with. Whatever the area of our concern, we’re always presented with a set of alternatives, or choices we’re required to make.

    So yes, in a very real sense, there’s no escaping our making use of “rational methods,” or whatever other resources at our disposal, when trying to ascertain what’s the right thing to do at any given time. Needless to say, this is not limited to moral considerations alone but, by all means, moral considerations constitute the paradigm case.

    7 As an addendum to Wittgenstein’s so-called recursion problem, I’d like to cite a remark to the effect that all “explanations come to an end somewhere.” I consider this the solving of the problem or, to put it differently, writing it out of existence.

    We’ve seen a variety of similar such moves in Quine, for example, or in Davidson, or in Searle, each of whom is arguing for a body of taken-for-granted, innate knowledge, a knowledge-base that is peculiar to our form of life, which knowledge-base, in turn, makes the rest of all our talk about anything and everything comprehensible.

    David Johnson expresses pretty much the same idea when he says that “ultimately those who act from genuine moral concern don’t talk much in moral terms, because morality is seen as a shared framework, shaping their behavior and that of others.”

    8. Lastly, I want to comment on William Blake’s idea that “one law for Lion & Ox is oppression.” And that would be perfectly true if humans could be legitimately parceled out into those who are meant to rule and those who are meant to obey. So unless it’s a facetious kind of statement – slavery,anyone? – I don’t know what to make of it. I presume the underlying impulse here would be to be on guard against those who would legislate their version of morality, and in that case, I would agree. But, on the other hand, what’s wrong with holding a view that all people should have ample opportunities to grow and develop whatever their potential?

  189. roger nowosielski

    I just read two of your comments on David Johnson’s thread, and I realize now you weren’t talking about what I thought you were talking about, so disregard that part of my comment. It’s still kind of difficult to follow that thread since people, for the most part, seem to be talking past one another. For instance, who were you responding to, and, by the same token, did your comments elicit a response from anyone? Kind of hard to tell, looking at the thread.

    BTW, Derek Parfit’s 2008 draft of “What Matters,” a pdf document, is available for downloading from this site.

    • My first intervention, July 30, 2013 at 1:25 pm, was generic. Johnson was judging between ‘bourgeois morality’ which he doesn’t like, and some other kind of morality which he does like — moral morality, perhaps — which led to the sort of recursive trap which Witt describes. People responded to what I wrote but I don’t think they took it in, so I repeated myself, to no avail. The deciding factor between ‘bourgeois morality’ and ‘moral morality’ could be aesthetic, tactical, logical — who knows. People who worry over the morality of leaving big enough tips, as opposed to which grand ideology to adopt, at least have the ability to determine what actually happens in the world as a result of their concerns, so that’s a point in favor of the buji version. Maybe that’s what I should have posted. The related joke is the fellow searching under the streetlight for his keys when he lost them on the other side of the street, where it’s dark.

      • roger nowosielski

        I’ll take a hint from troll, see above, and try to steer back to the original topic. Let me however respond.

        I don’t know about Johnson’s metaethical system, so I’m being guided here only by his article. And the way I read him, his criticism of the “bourgeois morality” is more a criticism of the bourgeoisie than of morality (echoing, perhaps, Marx’s criticism of the bourgeoisie). And the critique, as far as I am concerned, centers around “compartmentalization.”

        Which is one reason why I think your “tipping example” isn’t necessarily illuminating (or it is illuminating, perhaps, in a way you have not intended it to be). Although you’re right in pointing out that true moral concerns must somehow connect to and manifest themselves in our “ability to determine what actually happens in the world as a result of . . . [our] concerns,” again, the tipping example fails the litmus test.

        Lots of considerations may or may not go into “how much should we tip,” the least of which being — “how it makes us look.” It’s not therefore too hard to imagine a very scrupulous “tippster” playing by the rules, if you like, be it 15- or 20 percent, while exploiting his or her workers in their own business enterprise. That’s the kind of compartmentalization I’m talking about, and I think it is this what Johnson was critiquing. Not a new thing, of course, as it brings to mind the good old genre, “the comedy of manners”: see, for instance, Molière, Wycherley’s The Country Wife, or what’s of much more recent vintage, most of the works by Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw. In any case, we have a perfectly workable distinction between morality or ethics, on the one hand (and ethics & morality are not interchangeable, by the way), and etiquette and manners on the other; and I’m quite happy with it.

        As regards metaethics, I’d like to believe my WIttgensteinian exposure had cured me of this disease. In any case, here as anywhere else, I find conceptual analysis and, generally speaking, what we can or cannot say with or about language, more illuminating than anything else. Everything else, while interesting in its own right, is metaphysics.

        • I just thought that Johnson’s targets were not quite as indefensible as he seems to think they are. But I’m not out to interrupt anyone’s progress to the barricades.

  190. The Bolivarians propose that we step away from these Western conundrums and base our comparisons on their rather non-western conception of sustainability. Material data points and tools for measuring them could be constructed to implement this approach.

  191. Their sustainability criterion is quite at odds with Fanon’s anti-tribalist program.

  192. roger nowosielski

    Glad to have you back and for trying to bring this discussion on track. And the source of your assertion about the Bolivarians?

  193. Which one? I made a couple. The references that I posted early on were statements by their leaders to the effect that sustainability and a return to/re-evaluation of ‘indigenous techniques’ to achieve this were hallmarks of their approach.

  194. Fanon’s Nation sought to rule the tribes and suppress inter-tribal strife; the Bolivarian Nation seeks to enable the indigenous population and be ruled by it and it’s old survival traditions…or at least that’s the standard they’ve set for themselves.

  195. roger nowosielski

    Yes, I think you’re right, but it’s become a bit hazy in light of this long detour. I’ll have to reread parts of it.

  196. Surely the Bolivarians do not contemplate a resumption of inter-tribal strife. Indeed, if they follow Bolivar, they will want to aggregate at least Hispanophone America into some larger state or state-like entity. The Africa of the 1950s, unlike the South America of today, was nearly devoid of independent, autochthonous states, spoke hundreds of languages, and exhibited hundreds of cultures. Fanon could argue that the formation of a unitary state was necessary for self-defense.

    • It’s not my intention to engage Fanon in argument but to point to this divergence as evidence of the existence of a plurality of revolutions going on historically and at present, these two leading towards nationalisms.. ‘One size doesn’t fit all’

      Would this image (courtesy of thefree) appeal to revolutionary sentiment in Caracas as it does in the heart of darkness?

  197. roger nowosielski

    I think you’re correct about the underlying intent to form a coalition, if only to ward off Western economic and political influence by presenting a united front. We see the makings of it already, a nucleus, as it were, comprised of the states of Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador; and more are likely to follow.

    That was Lupita’s point on one of the CT threads.

  198. Chavez spoke of the need for a Bolivarian ‘power bloc’ of SA countries for defense, trade, etc.

  199. (I wonder if the Bolivarians now see the…irony?… of turning to the East for support in their fight against capitalism.)

  200. (…supposed fight against capitalism)

  201. Well, one takes one’s friends where one finds them, especially in a rough game like nation-state politics.

    I’m still reading Fanon — on a computer, so it’s slow going and hard on the eyes.

  202. Something that might interest youse guys (as we say in New Joisey). Philosophy Commons . Not sure if it has anything to offer. Just stumbled upon it.

    (Psst, the little boy pictured is my latest rescue. He is taking a break from beating up on a toy that is essentially a box, which has holes in it and a jingle bell ball inside that he has to reach his paws in to bat around. He is a darling little guy.)

  203. So…in what sense does the recent exploitation of oil resources by the Venezuelan State advance sustainability?

    • I’m not sure that it does.

      Changing tack, what do you think of this proposal? and this related site

      This proposal would provide the entire planet with close to free energy and seems very doable to me…

      • …some preliminary events might be required to motivate the cooperation required for such projects

        Ideally, I think it would be a good plan to develop grids that could accept input from any size producer.

      • If you drive on highway 26 between Hatch and Deming New Mexico you will run into this wind project.

        These are massive turbines that produce a disorienting surreal environment. They appear to be walking across the valley – almost. Photo from

        • I don’t have any problem with the sight of these wind turbines myself, although there are some concerns in some areas about the potential danger to bird life.

          Of course, they wouldn’t be needed if the Sahara solar project was implemented and I still think that offers the current best solution to our power needs.

          • …don’t get me wrong – I’m a big fan of disorienting surreal environments…the picture doesn’t do the sight justice.

            Concerning a worldwide single project, how do you propose to get from here to there – politically speaking, that is?

          • That’s the challenge of course and it is hard to see a simple path to realising the project in the current political climate.

            There are some fairly heavyweight people involved with Desertec though so I guess supporting that and encouraging others by spreading the word is the most non-politicos like us can achieve at this point.

        • I’ve seen many others but I’m pretty sure I’ll never see this particular wind farm though as I have resolved not to enter the USA again until it becomes a more liberal and tolerant place than its current status as prison capital of the world!

          • Walking the ‘razor’s edge’ that is life in the good old USA becomes more and more difficult each year.

          • …which reminds me – if you drive south from this farm another 20ish miles you will run into a full-time homeland security check-point (papers, papers) with dogs and the works…a new development in the last few years.

          • How bitterly ironic that the USSR disappeared to be replaced, post 9/11, by the USSA.

            Oppressive state security, legal requirements and quotas for bank employees and lawyers to inform on their clients, fun, fun, fun!

        • “a disorienting surreal environment” sounds like we’d better get used to that sensation…i, at least, feel that way any time i interact with the world…especially the news.

          • Take this bit of news, for example: “if you drive south from this farm another 20ish miles you will run into a full-time homeland security check-point (papers, papers) with dogs and the works”

      • roger nowosielski

        response posted on top

    • roger nowosielski

      It’s not clear from the context, Mark, who are you responding to by the aforementioned comment.

  204. roger nowosielski

    Aren’t you being here somewhat inconsistent, Christopher, to argue for global sustainability (in terms of the availability of energy, food, etc.) while denying in on the local level?

    On a related point, in a series of articles prior to this one, I presented a rather cogent argument to the effect that nation-states might be driven to come together to form a united administrative body to tackle the impending problems and challenges facing humanity in the foreseeable future — not from the standpoint of what’s immediately profitable but what’s eventually necessary — only to be silenced, by Anarcissie, for example, for engaging in utopian thinking.

    • I’m not aware that I have argued that, Roger.

      As to your proposal, I find myself troubled by the idea of a supra-national administrative body. Government doesn’t have a good recent track record at local or national level.

      • roger nowosielski

        It would seem to me, Christopher, that sustainability comes awfully close to the concept of self-sufficiency. And if that’s the case, then I don’t see how one can argue for global self-sufficiency while denying the possibility of realizing some such state on the local level (as per your response to troll, first line, “I’m not sure that it does,” immediately below. Otherwise, which is to say, aside from that context, I wouldn’t know what to make of your linked references to the two websites, and

        • My comment to troll was in response to his question “in what sense does the recent exploitation of oil resources by the Venezuelan State advance sustainability?”

          I guess unlimited and cheap power for the whole planet produced centrally from just one place or possibly a handful of locations is pretty close to the self-sufficiency in many ways but cheap global solar power for the world and local oil production are certainly poles apart.

          • roger nowosielski

            I thought that troll’s underlying question was how or whether local oil production contributes to Venezuela’s presumed aim of attaining relative self-sufficiency.

          • ‘Sustainability’ has a number of senses; I’m trying to get clear on what the Bolivarians mean by it.

            Comes down to just what is to be sustained, I guess – is it the State at any cost (so that it can ‘be a river to its people’, of course), or is it something else?

          • roger nowosielski

            I wouldn’t say “at any cost” but in the interim at least, and to the extent that the State, or a bloc of SA states, can be a “river to its people,” yes.

            My thinking is, the nationalization of Venezuelan oil resources had been put to good use thus far — spreading the wealth as well as enfranchising a great bulk of its native population, people who prior to now haven’t even been considered citizens: now, they have a substantial voice in their government. To me, this development is comparable to the abolition of slavery in the US.

            As regards Christopher’s comment (above), the parallelism I was stressing has to do with putting whatever resources at one’s disposal to good public use, not to compare solar-based global energy with local oil production. Obviously, the Venezuelans are not in a position to implement the first-mentioned program on any large scale, so they do what in the meantime they can: by taking the profits from the oil industry out of private hands, they are a river to its people. Which is hardly what obtains in the US or any rabidly capitalist-based economic system.

          • Roger, I fear you may be making the classic neoliberal mistake, one I first noted in a certain lunar bird, of overly romanticising the Bolivarian “revolution” in Venezuela…

            The country is currently, as far as I can tell, one of the most violent and corrupt in the world; if that is what state capitalism, the so called “river to the people”, creates, I’m not clear as to how that might be better than standard capitalism, which I don’t see as being rabid in nature.

          • roger nowosielski

            A partial clarification posted as part of a response to troll’s comment, see below.

        • An individual or individual community could produce in a sustainable way without being self-sufficient or produce all that he/she/it needs in an unsustainable way. I don’t see the close logical relationship.

          • roger nowosielski

            I’m not pressing for exact equivalency, but there is a connection: sustainability is predicated on a measure of self-sufficiency. It wouldn’t make sense to speak of it while in a state of total dependence.

            Needless to say, we also have to assume a measure of reciprocity and interdependence, things no community or individual could do without — in spite of the Robinson Crusoe myth.

          • I’m with troll in not seeing much of a linkage between sustainability and self-sufficiency.

            It’s entirely possible for something to be sustainable without their being and self-sufficiency at all; similarly self-sufficiency doesn’t imply or require sustainability.

            As to assuming things, I don’t like to do that as it is often a mistake – or leads to mistakes…

          • roger nowosielski

            I don’t think I and troll are at odds on the subject in light of the qualifications I had posted by way of my response.

            As to your other comment, we do have different ideas of what we mean by “neoliberalism,” but that’s neither here nor there.

            And of course I’m romanticizing things a bit; it’s difficult not to. Because of the grim situation in the West, one would like to see some success in other parts of the world.

            But which facts exactly are untrue about the Venezuelan situation? An unprecedented rise in the standard of living and education? The voice of the previously disenfranchised in their government? As to the level of corruption, it doesn’t compare to what obtains in Mexico or Columbia, for example, which states are the lackeys of the US government.

            The following website,, as per Marthe Raymond, appears more reliable than any other in the Western media; and I concur. So what are your sources, Christopher?

          • Roger, Venezuela Analysis is a site run by people who are pro the current state, so how you could think it a reliable source is puzzling.

            I looked at Transparency International (where you’ll find that neither Colombia and Mexico rank as low as Venezuela despite their challenges) and Wikipedia and

          • roger nowosielski

            An edited transcript of my conversation with MR on the subject of Latin America’s corruption:

            MR: I am only speculating that as usual he simply parroted the anglosaxon anti-Venezuela party line.

            Just a couple of quick ones:

            1) Chris apparently believes that the press of countries which not only are hostile to Venezuela’s government because it won’t hand over its resources and kiss their asses but which spend hundreds of millions of dollars financing the raggedy capitalist opposition is closer to the truth than a website which admits it supports the Bolivarian process and which operates on a budget of 10K dollars per year while trying hard to present a balanced view of the news. Too bad it’s the only English language site providing news and commentary about Venezuela to the staunchly monolingual anglosaxons. If said anglos were not so resistant to learning other languages they would be able to read a shitload more news and commentary than what is published on Venezuelanalysis.

            2) Latin America’s corruption is infamous. It is notable in all countries which are colonies of the North or which
            are new to the process of decolonialization. Mexico and Colombia are colonies of the US, and therefore publicizing their extreme levels of human rights violations and corruption is not central to the US government agenda since it continues to provide billions in military aid to the most flagrant violators.

            The UN, on the other hand, despite its dependence on the US, takes a very dim view of the lack of transparency in Colombia and Mexico as well as their massive human rights violations. It seems to me that in the case of Mexico there seems to be a new special UN investigator here every month or so, and from what I read in the Spanish language press, the situation is almost as drastic in Colombia.

            On the other hand, what I read in the regional press about the UN’s position in regard to Venezuela is largely positive: millenium goals reached several years ago, poverty well below 30%–compared to 80% here in Mexico–5th worldwide in percentage of population studying at university, hunger eliminated, etc. As for corruption, it’s definitely there, as the recent series of arrests indicate–folks in the government ministries and agencies as well as folks in the private sector are being brought up on charges daily, as Maduro is on the warpath against crime and corruption. In Mexico, for every Elba Esther Gordillo or Granier that’s in the slammer waiting to go free because–oh my, the government didn’t build its case correctly- thousands of pols are building mansions in Lomas de Chapultepec with money ripped off from the public trough and extorted from contractors in exchange for contracts. Raul Salinas de Gortari just had his slate wiped clean and has to be given back all the money and 49 high roller real properties the government impounded in 1995 because although he accumulated those hundreds of millions of dollars and all those properties in only 8 years, the government couldn’t prove where the money came from. Ha!

            The point is, Venezuela is cracking down on corruption. Mexico and Colombia have no intention of doing so. Nor do they have any intention of throwing off their status as US colonies.

            A final note, if Chris were in the habit of visiting
            Venezuelanalysis, he would be aware of an interesting article that went up on the site this evening on getting rid of the culture of corruption through alternative education. It happens to be an interview with an educator with whose point of view, model and strategy I am fully in agreement.

            RN: True to form, Marthe. I’d only like to add that reports by such entities as NGOs, neutral and fair-minded as they’re being portrayed, are hardly to be trusted or regarded as, in any sense, “more reliable” than anything else: they’re nothing but the arm of the imperialistic powers in place, a convenient screen for such powers, because those very powers have lost all credibility to pontificate on their own behalf.

            May I use parts of your comment, understandably edited to an extent, by way of posting a response? It’s not exactly as though I was at a loss as to what to say. You, however, command a great deal of detail about the situation, and I surely want to avail myself of your more or less expert knowledge in order to make my repartee more poignant.

            MR: Yes, Roger, the US actually has created a whole armload of NGOs in Venezuela–supposedly to “develop and strengthen democracy”–as part of the strategy designed to do away with Chavismo. The publication of communications to and from the US embassy in Caracas by Wikileaks made all of that clear to all but the determinedly illiterate. Since then, the US has made no secret of the hundreds of millions targeted to destabilize the country and overthrow its government. Its refusal to recognize Maduro as president and its continued bankrolling of the rabid former candidate Henrique Capriles’ in his global travels to badmouth the Venezuelan government leave no doubt as to its intention to get its meat-hooks on Venezuela’s oil reserves by hook or by crook–all the while threatening to punish them for offering asylum to Snowden, of course.

            You may find entertaining that Capriles called one of the
            candidates in the MUD primary for the office of mayor of Caracas a SORE LOSER earlier this week because the guy claimed he won, and as the MUD burned the primary records so he could not consult them he announced he was running as an independent in the December election. Also this week the supreme court threw out Capriles’ plea to annul the April election and fined him for the disrespectful and abusive language contained in the text of the plea. They have turned the case over to the federal prosecutor to determine if criminal charges should be filed against him for his incitations to violence against chavistas and government property on April 15– incitations that lead to the deaths of 11 people.

            The US always backs the scum of politics with the disclaimer that yes, they are sonsofbitches, but they are THEIR sonsofbitches since they paid handsomely for
            them with US citizens’ tax dollars.

            Feel free to cite my comments.

            RN: Still have a question, though: what kind of corruption are we talking about and perpetrated mostly by whom? The ruling party officials accepting bribes, the Republican opposition, the middle-class civil servants from previous administrations which still fill the ranks of the bureaucratic structure and administration?

            MR: All of the above, and hundreds more–including money laundering, extorsion, looking the other way as price controlled staple goods are detoured from their route from the warehouse to the mercado and sold for higher prices in Colombia, etc. Not to mention allowing fake businesses to buy dollars at the official exchange rate supposedly to import goods and selling them on the black market. The list is endless as although Chavez closed many avenues and loopholes, Latin Americans are very skilled and curiously creative at corruption–one closed door means a new one has to be opened. They can drive a Mack truck through a mouse-hole, speaking metaphorically.

          • Roger, as ever, Marthe is as aggressive as she is inaccurate – I didn’t quote or refer to the press of any country in pointing out the problems in Venezuela.

            For the record, I have difficulty believing most media, including those that might, at first sight, appear to be marginally more sympathetic to my own perspective. It’s amusing in a depressing kind of way that she likes to imagine that the regional press is somehow magically more objective than everywhere else in the world.

            I’m not monolingual either, but I am disinclined to leap to assumptions, something your favourite lunar avian is clearly excessively fond of.

            Transparency International has been working to expose corruption all around the world for 20 years and is independent. Its board includes people from Peru, Argentina, Colombia, Cameroon, Zambia and Bangladesh amongst others. It is not a tool of the USA. Indeed, all its individual members are listed on the site along with full details of their register of interests, as you can see for yourself here and its management team is listed here along with their direct email contact addresses Further investigation of the site will include details of its financing.

            Marthe’s remarks with regard to Venezuela are clearly partisan, whereas I really don’t give a fuck either way. The pair of you are clearly allowing your romanticised liberal perspectives to get in the way of reality. She’s always done that, which is presumably part of the reason why she gets so vitriolic and loses it; I would hope you are made of sterner stuff…

          • roger nowosielski

            We both agree, Chris, that Marthe is aggressive. She is an indigenous person, for crying out loud, an indigenous person, to boot, who wares her badge proudly and with honor. And I’d surely rather that the indigenous people the world over were aggressive (for there’s enough of that) rather than docile. Don’t you agree? And if you don’t, then perhaps what you may see as weakness, just saying, I see it as strength.

            As to the inaccuracy charge, you may have a point when it comes to her rather hard-n-fast, slipshod characterization of you as relying on or parroting from Anglo-Saxon sources. But that’s a minor point considering, especially since there’s bad blood between the two of you: she thinks you responsible, right or wrong, for banning her from BC. Wherever truth may lie, we’re all human.

            As regards matters of substance, however, I don’t think I’m being foolhardy to take her word for what’s transpiring in that part of the globe, ideological as she may be, if only by virtue of the fact that it is her world: she knows it better than any of us.

            We’re all ideological to an extent, the human condition, a thing I suppose we can’t help. But I do regard Marthe Raymond, for all her faults, as a person of integrity. And that’s all that matters to me in the final analysis.

          • I’ve no problem with anybody, even those who are 100% mistaken, sticking up for themselves, but that doesn’t need the kind of careless, poorly targeted aggression the lunar bird deploys.

            Your argument as to substance doesn’t really make much sense to me; there are many people on the ground there, with many different views, and they can’t all be right; it follows, therefore, that the argument that “it is her world” carries no real merit.

            I have shown you why her remarks were based on nothing other than her own prejudices and attempted to show you that I don’t mind what the truth of the situation is either way. As in all things, I try to follow the facts, not the opinions and preferences, wherever they may lead.

            There may be bad blood on her part but there isn’t on mine. I don’t accept that is okay because “we’re all human”. We have to hold ourselves to decent standards – and standards of decency – that require honesty or else there can be no integrity. Moonraven repeatedly fails that test and so carries very little credibility in my eyes, but I don’t hold grudges or set my opinions in stone, so there is always hope!

          • roger nowosielski

            “Transparency International,” as per MR, “has to rely on its national offices for data. Transparency Mexico is shockingly unreliable–most of its data is taken from the government reports, which are exposed with persistent regularity by researchers from the region whose credibility is internationally recognized to be largely fantasies created in the hope of attracting more ephemeral investment from the US.”

            Now, make of this what you will, but if even partly true, it does throw some doubt on the reliability of the so-called “official” sources. Plus, Marthe didn’t really deny the problem of wide-ranging corruption throughout South America; in fact, she’d gone to great lengths trying to explain it. I find it quite telling that for all your criticisms of her, you did not give her credit for that.

            In any case, I’m not going to say anything more on the subject; and I’m certainly not going to play the role of an advocate, especially since she’s been barred from this forum to speak on her own behalf. I cited parts of my conversation with her only in order to cast some doubt on the reliability of the “official sources,” which you should only welcome, rather than disparage, since you are the seeker of the truth.

          • TI is doing the best it can, Roger; even if there are problems with some of its data sources, that doesn’t invalidate the entire effort. It is at least transparent, unlike MR, who has shown her hand as partisan, meaning nothing she says can be taken at face value.

            I’ve not ever claimed TI as an absolutely reliable source, but it is clearly doing a better job than many other players…

            I welcome all attempts to shed light on all matters, whatever the topic, but the partisan can never be trusted.

            The only reason MR remains barred is because she insists on refusing to accept our norms and appears to expect to be treated differently to anybody else, which is, of course, never going to happen.

  205. Yup. White male/colonial privilege is a problem for the far left.

  206. (…and so is bigotry)

  207. roger nowosielski

    I don’t think it’s a now-past theme, since we’re returning to it. But I’m somewhat confused. The article you cited reverberates some of the criticisms launched against “universal anarchism” in the hotly-disputed paper by George Ciccariello-Maher (as per one of the earlier links). So have you changed your mind?

    • I post things because I find them interesting, not because I agree with them. I also put a link to the Ciccariello-Maher essay on BudourHassan’s blog. I was impressed with the fact that a small number of people who are living a comfortable ‘White’ life in Tel Aviv are going out to the West Bank and aligning themselves physically with the Palestinians in the hair-raising political atmosphere of the Middle East — and then getting disparaged for it. But I’m familiar with the ritual. Back in the 1950s and the early 1960s, many Civil Rights activists were Jews from the big cities in the northeast whom everyone seemed to resent — they even resented one another. Eventually, having gotten various things started, they were more or less kicked out of the movement. Many people seem to be quite fond of racial stuff even when it operates on them very adversely.

      What the critics of the imperial anarchists don’t seem to have figured out is what their targets ought to do. As someone I read recently wrote (might have been a commenter to BudourHassan), it is the existing state and culture that construct race, gender, class, and privilege and identify individuals with these categories. The individual has only a very limited ability to affect that construction, especially if their attempts to subvert it are strongly resisted by a great majority of those who are oppressed by it, as well as by their oppressors, as they so often are.

      • ‘Stacking’ focuses attention on the problem of privilege, at least; a first step toward deconstruction. No equivalent practice has been proposed for bigotry that I know of.

      • roger nowosielski

        Well, I see your point: what’s the poor anarchist to do?

        • Maybe the more pressing question is what the various movements are going to do with people outside their set who are sympathetic to their goals (not just anarchists). Presumably if they’re not wanted the privileged White guys can just go back to Tel Aviv or New York and find something else to do.

          • roger nowosielski

            “What’s the poor anarchist to do” was taken from your own playbook, but you’re right about the larger problem.

            Sooner or later, we all have to come together, black, brown, or white, in the common cause.

          • Very true; Anarchism may well have a significant role to play in humanity’s future but right now it is little more than a liberal intellectual’s plaything and there are far more pressing matters to attend to…

          • The main problem of human beings is other human beings. The reason other human beings are a problem is mainly over power issues: some humans want to take power over and exploit or destroy others. That is the problem which anarchism (among other ideologies) engages. I can’t think of anything more pressing, globally speaking.

          • I’d agree that there are many people who want power and control over others and that is a major problem but resolving that won’t be possible if we are all dead through abusing the planet beyond its ability to tolerate.

            I think a more fundamental issue is the lies our so called leaders keep peddling to us and the way things such as religious faith is used to divide and manipulate people.

            There are far too many arguments about even the meaning of anarchism for it to provide a clear or fundamental path to resolving any of our problems, nor do I see anything in its political dimension that would allow for us to care for ourselves at scale and in a qualitative way.

            As I said, anarchism will probably have a significant influence in the future, if we get that far without going extinct…

          • Anarchism is a direct response to the two problems advanced in your first two paragraphs. Environmental destruction and ecological breakdown are the obvious and inevitable result of the development of the capitalist state, which requires the constant expansion of production-consumption regardless of human desire or need. The ‘more fundamental issue’ is the now institutionalized and culturally approved quest for power over others. The reason leaders and administrators who have power peddle lies is because (true) knowledge is power. The more they lie successfully, the greater their advantage. It’s just one of the practices universally and necessarily associated with power differentials.

            Clearly, then, the beginning of any conscious, deliberate effort to solve these problems must be the conscious, deliberate decision to dismantle the engines which drive them — the state in general, and the capitalist state in particular. The logic seems inescapable.

            We are not ‘caring for ourselves’. We are destroying ourselves.

          • Anarcissie, I don’t agree that the capitalist state “requires the constant expansion of production-consumption”. That’s kind of putting it backwards; the human population is growing so rapidly as to demand the constant expansion of production.

            Capitalism is only there to meet those demands as the least wasteful way – which is not to say undamaging – of coping with that awful and remorseless need.

            That is actually the fundamental need…

          • Population is nearly level in most advanced industrial societies, because, by and large, they have evolved some sort of rights for women, including the right not to breed constantly. So I don’t think it can be considered a driver of capitalist expansion. (I have read that if it were not for immigration, the population of the U.S. would be declining, with unpleasant economic consequences. Hence the American political schizophrenia about it.)

            Marx wrote rather poetically in the Communist Manifesto that ‘the bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society‘ but in the 20th century it turned out that capitalist industrialism could overwhelm the traditional scarcity of essential goods like food and clothing. Without scarcity, without a crisis, who would continue to employ capitalists to manage the economy? So the response was not to go to a ten-hour work week but to get rid of the surplus, and so the bourgeoisie also had to revolutionize the instruments of consumption, which now include consumerism, war, imperialism, and good old waste. In the last thirty or forty years, outright environmental and social destruction have come into play as well, all of which will require yet more capitalism to repair. It’s a shell game which has little to do with population levels.

          • Anarcissie, are you trying to suggest that capitalism is confined to “advanced industrial countries”?

            We don’t live in a world of scarcity, except in the obvious one of the gross limits of a closed system, we live in a world of increasing abundance, one that is lifting more and more people out of poverty and hunger.

            We don’t need less capitalism, we need better capitalism and that is what we are increasingly seeing emerge as the barriers to starting businesses of all kinds continue to reduce and a better, more socially aware and responsible capitalism starts to emerge.

            That’s a trend we should encourage and support.

          • I really don’t see how you can fix a system based on domination and exploitation. In any case, things are not getting better for 80% of the people in the United States even according to the rigged figures supplied by its ruling class. They may be getting better elsewhere, although what I have read of (for instance) environmental degradation in China suggests that if they are getting better, they may not be getting better for long.

            The idea that you can always have more stuff and more power over lesser people simply does not work in a finite world. The qualities that lead to capitalist success, like aggressiveness and narrow-mindedness (‘focus’) spill over into politics as war, imperialism, police-state surveillance and repression, and gross destruction of the physical and social environment. That’s why we see so much of them these days. It’s time for something else.

          • roger nowosielski

            I must say, Christopher, that I’m pleasantly surprised by the tone of your conversation and the general level of the debate.

            I needn’t say that I agree with Anarcissie concerning the prospects of revamping the capitalist system so as to make it more responsive and less detrimental to the public good, but I’m impressed by your sticking to your guns nonetheless. Perhaps something good will result in the end.

            In any case, for someone who doesn’t claim any academic credentials to their credit, you thinking, and your articulation of your thinking, leaves nothing to be desired. Most importantly, perhaps, I detect no sign of any kind of pretense, which makes you in my eyes a genuine person. It’s a welcome relief from all too many commenters on such sites as CT (Crooked Timber), commenters who seem more intent on impressing one another, not to mention impressing themselves

            Good show is all I can say!

          • Roger, I’m delighted that you seem finally to see me for who I am rather than who you imagined me to be. We’ll make a rationalist of you yet!

            I am a very independent person and don’t even really align myself with people with whom by and large I agree.

            I would actually prefer that more anarchic and massively decentralised processes held sway globally and agree with those such as Anarcissie or Cindy on a theoretical level.

            Where I diverge is on the practical level of the possibility of implementation.

            Given that I don’t see that as achievable – and believe me, I have tried and tested such approaches – and given also that ultimately it is that which can actually be achieved that really matters, I have turned towards more practical approaches that can actually be implemented.

            Capitalism isn’t a rigid process or system and is actually far more amorphous and malleable, more anarchic if you will, than most appear to imagine.

            Anybody, literally anybody, can start a business these days and create any kind of capitalism they want to. I think that offers more real prospects for people to empower their lives and live a freer life of their own choosing.

            That seems like a good thing to me and serves a larger purpose of empowering and enabling the previously disenfranchised, whether that be in the USA, Western Europe or further afield.

            I personally am currently helping people do this in Central and South America, the Middle East, the USA, Australia, Singapore and Thailand, whilst simultaneously freeing myself from the depressing and demoralising prospect of being a cog in somebody else’s machine.

            That seems like a positive thing to me and something that Anarchism is currently incapable of doing. I truly hope that will be different in the future and that I will both live long enough to see it and embrace it as and when.

            Finally, I’ve been to Crooked Timber a few times but find it of little interest, not least for the reasons you indicated. I’m glad we agree on that.

          • Chris, it’s unclear to me how work as a marketer qualifies one as a capitalist, though I imagine that productive capitalists do appreciate such efforts.

          • Well, troll, for a start, marketing is only one of the things I do. Secondly, are you saying that only large corporations are capitalists?

          • But if we tell the Venezuelans or the Palestinians that, we’re exerting White privilege. It’s just more of the European religion of logic. I’m reminded of an Art Spiegelman comic about the Balkans in which an old lady (or anthropomorphized rodent, perhaps) asks, ‘Can’t we just hate each other in peace?’

          • Re-reading the Random Shelling piece reminds of my initial resistance to getting involved in evaluating, criticizing, supporting (whatever that means) the Bolivarian movement.

            Plenty to do right here.

          • roger nowosielski

            A link to the RS piece, please.

            And what might that be, the pressing questions, that is, aside from, say, participating in the FNB activities? Finding a place for “the privileged white male” in a world-wide struggle against all kinds of domination (as per Anarcissie)? Or perhaps convincing some of the denizens of BC to more enlightened, anarchistic ways?

            Don’t forget how frustrated you were just a few months ago, so as to retire to the wilderness for a stretch. I think emancipatory struggles in other parts of the world can serve us as an object lesson, we can all learn from them. Besides, they can give us heart.

          • Random Shelling is the budourhassan blog’s name.

            …how about wild-crafting quinoa in the parks? I think that old white guys are particularly well suited for washing dishes and picking up cigarette butts.

            I don’t think it’s necessary to remain ignorant about emancipation elsewhere. However, I don’t enter pueblo land without a personal invitation and wouldn’t presume to speak there without being asked to.

          • roger nowosielski

            At least you’ve got a sense of humor, not to mention a sense of reality, not to enter the pueblo land uninvited. But what we’re doing here is for fun.

          • I’ve never really enjoyed tourism.

          • roger nowosielski

            correcting the preceding post

          • roger nowosielski

            Furthermore, see response to Chris (below) on the subject of Latin America’s corruption, as per Marthe Raymond. Just one of the reasons why having our sights on other parts of the world as well is not a total waste of time. It can surely teach us about the extent of the US perfidy when it comes to meddling in international politics, not to mention the long-last effects of colonialism.

  208. Is anti-authoritarianism the complete anarchist message?

  209. Yes, Anti-authoritarianism, or anti-establishmentarianism, IS the complete anarchist message. How could it be otherwise? The anarchist faces a never-ending series of establishments to overthrow. Thus, the bloshevik must oppose Stalin. And the Stalins know that so they kill the bolsheviks.

    An anarchist knows in his bones that the establishment he confronts is flawed and sinful, even though he created it himself and it is peopled by his comrades. And those comrades know just as surely that the anarchist has served his purpose and must be killed.

    It cannot be otherwise.

    • roger nowosielski

      I think it’s an oversimplification, bliffle, to say that an anarchist is just anti-authoritarian. I’d say that he or she is an extreme humanitarian, with a twist. The people should have the freedom to be able to reach their full potential and determine their own destiny, which isn’t the same as saying that the concept of authority must necessarily be wiped out. The twist, I think, consists in the fact that there may be times when ends justify the means, especially if the means are temporary and the ends more or less permanent. That’s in fact the bone of contention on this thread — whether this is a morally justifiable position.

      I can’t speak for troll, of course. His response may well be different.

      • Given the state of human culture, anti-authoritarianism is not a simple, easy idea. It requires a radical revision of almost everything almost everyone is taught from infancy. We also have to recognize that we do not yet know how to organize ourselves very well without authorities. There are some tasks which can be engaged right away, however, such as trying to restrain the war and work machine, or mitigating the domestic depredations of the ruling class.

        • I have little problem with experts and specialists and other carriers of traditional knowledges.

          • (…per se)

          • roger nowosielski

            I suppose one context could be that of “education.” And so the question arises: Can aspects of education be differentiated from indoctrination? If so, then perhaps making use of, or relying upon, “authority” in the first instance would be more tolerable than in the second.

            But to explore this question on a deeper level, we also could ask: To what extent could education be value-neutral? And if, in some fundamental way, it cannot be, then we must be able to distinguish between education so conceived, education “in a new key,” from indoctrination.

            Which again brings us back to the question of authority, For if transmittal of values is an essential aspect of a human society, it would seem we can’t do without some kind of authority altogether.

          • One might want to know whether the teaching-learning interaction was voluntary; whether it was informed; what was its scope; and what was its goal.

            Indoctrination is often non-voluntary and uninformed, of narrow scope, and with a goal of subordinating the indoctrinated.

            Education, on the other hand, is an ambiguous word. Sometimes it’s authoritarian and sometimes it isn’t, often depending on the audience and the context. In the United States, the education industry is highly authoritarian, but other models have been suggested and experimented with.

            I was wondering, though, if troll was referring to situations in which one person seems to know more than others, be more competent, and the like. In those cases most people who are interested in whatever is going on will almost always subordinate themselves to the supposed greater knowledge of the sage or hero. Hence, terms like ‘Sports Authority’ attract customers and help sell sport equipment because the store assumes a mantle of competence. Whether the superior knowledge really exists and is really superior, justifying the subordination, is another question, but at least the relation is consensual and informed.

          • roger nowosielski

            I’m certain he’ll chime in in due time, but let me take a stab at it. The operating phrase I think is, “carriers of traditional knowledges.”

            The kind of expert knowledges you’re referring to, like a “sports authority,” for instance, are innocuous enough for us to defer to, mostly because it doesn’t matter too much either way. A more serious case would be that of an expert witness, a psychologist, for instance, in the course of a trial. Likewise, we may defer to authorities in various areas of scholarship — historical scholarship, for instance; but here we have to be careful because of the possibility of revisionism.

            In any case, there is a strong argument against governance by experts, i.e., technocrats, and the main objection has to do with the fact when it comes to arriving at important political decisions, a common man should be in a position to make those determinations because of the implications of such decisions; and further, that he or she should be in a position to make an informed judgments. (This is especially true of regimes which purport to be democratic.)

            So we’re back to the question of values — what really matters. And it is in those kind of cases that the concept of authority weighs in more heavily than in all other kinds of cases, and is therefore most susceptible to abuse. (Whereas in cases where values are not really involved, there isn’t that much of a problem because nothing really important rides on it.)

          • It’s not only education that is highly authoritarian in the USA; it is extraordinary that the “land of the free” is so hierarchical, far more so than most Americans seem to believe.

  210. roger nowosielski

    I think it would be proper at this point to introduce this classic, Open Veins of Latin America, a downloadable pdf file.

  211. Anti-authoritarianism is a facet of the anarchist message, but for me, it is not the whole message. I think the whole message is richer and riper and oozing with anarchistic gooey goodness. 😉 But that may just be me and what I believe and/or how I interpret most anarchists with whom I’ve had the pleasure to be acquainted; whilst having an understanding of what they believe (and it’s pretty similar with anarchists across the board, whom I’ve interacted with). Anti-authoritarianism is merely the way we get, or the only means to achieve the good stuff. “The good stuff” is the actual message–for me anyway.

    Food not bombs is more than an anti-authoritarian message, for example.

    By the way peeps, a new thang from Znet has appeared to me in an email. There will be a left (including anarchist) oriented social/media site:

    Hope it loads for you :-/

    • roger nowosielski

      I happen to agree with you, Cindy, although as Anarcissie had pointed out in an earlier post, even anti-authoritarianism is a difficult position to maintain and stay true to: is it because we’ve all been programmed to believe?

  212. Anti-authoritarianism is a consequence of the ideas of equality and freedom. (One idea, actually.) Equality is (one might say) the natural or original state of humans, which has been repeatedly occluded by the idea and practice of domination (for example, in the form of slavery and militarism), in which social relations are confined by the needs of power. Equality at least allows for the full flow of social relations. Thus it affords different problems and different rewards from the practice of domination and exploitation.

    The reason one starts with a negative (‘anti-‘) is that the presently predominant forms of social organization are descended from and still strongly influenced by the invention of slavery, so that any attempt to change or replace the existing arrangement, however peaceable, is seen as a revolt, a rebellion, a crime, which it truly is from the point of view of the stakeholders of the established order. As a result giving out food in a park, or planting seeds in vacant lots, have sometimes been so greatly honored as to be defined as terrorism by the authorities. (Although usually these activities are just coopted and sterilized by smarter authorities.)

    Since slavery and militarism have repeatedly arisen in unrelated contexts, I think we have to admit that human beings have a problem with social life and organization not observed in other social animals. Some evolutionary misfortune has made us vulnerable to this particular pathology (which at this time has become drearily endemic almost everywhere). ‘We have met the enemy, and he is us.’ It is possible that we can compensate for the defect in our genetic heritage through culture, that is, through the cultural evolution of an insistence on freedom and equality (‘anarchism’, some might call it).

    The alternative is a continued struggle for power and invidious advantage, which, in a world of ever more powerful weapons, can be logically expected to terminate our particular branch of the evolutionary tree.

    • I am baffled by the assertion that “Equality is (one might say) the natural or original state of humans”.

      What is the basis for that claim?

      • For one thing, the apparent widespread lack of institutionalized rank or class status in hunter-gatherer societies. Another evidence is the repeated appearance of egalitarianism and egalitarian subcultures in later times and places, including our own. If humans were genetically programmed to live in some kind of social or political inequality, then even thinking about egalitarian arrangements would be impossible, much less desiring them or planning to do anything about them, nor would the severe measures consistently used by authorities to establish and maintain their status be required.

        Actually, the positive assertion which needs to be defended from evidence is that there is some kind of class ordering or ranking that is natural to humans. We certainly don’t observe genes that code for class. What we observe in modern societies may well be no more than a recent endemic pathology — that is, the state is a disease.

        • Inequality doesn’t have to be institutionalised to be present.

          Which egalitarian sub-cultures are you referring to? And if that is a natural state, why isn’t it more prevalent?

          It also seems unlikely that simply because we are by and large living in hierarchical systems to assume that means that “even thinking about egalitarian arrangements would be impossible”.

          I think you may be romanticising the past in order to criticise the present.

          Humans are the most complex and intelligent species this world has ever produced; it doesn’t seem infeasible that such a young species has a long way to go in evolutionary terms, in both gross physical terms and in more intangible ways.

          • Actually, the ‘natural state’ is quite prevalent, in daily life. Outside of employment (and sometimes even then), most people mind their own business without being given orders and relate to others in a fairly egalitarian way, at least in liberal societies. You can just go out on the street, or sit in a park, and observe this. It’s so ubiquitous and all-pervasive that I guess people can’t see it, but it’s still there.

            The egalitarian subcultures I refer to are any communities which practice internal egalitarianism, such as coops, communes, and (some) political and social groups.

            Thinking practically about an egalitarian social order would be impossible if we were genetically coded to organize ourselves hierarchically. It would be like suggesting that we try doing without language. No humans would be able to imagine a situation in which someone wasn’t implicitly or explicitly telling them what to do. But in fact, they’re always getting that idea.

            If, as you finally suggest, humans are mutable and not bound by nature to past behavioral patterns, then the whole argument against anarchism based on human nature disappears. ‘We’ can do what ‘we’ want, and once again fans of the state have the burden of telling us why we should want the institutionalization and practice of permanent violence.

          • But you were talking about politics. I’m also confused as to how some people in a park equates to a sub-culture…

            Beyond that, there have been co-ops and communes for many years now but none of them – nor anarchism – have come anywhere near dealing with the large scale production of so many things that a large global population requires.

            I agree that we can do what we want, in an anarchic sense, and maybe one day we will. I just don’t think we are going to have evolved that far whilst anybody currently on the planet is still alive.

            Given that, we are left with the task of finding smarter ways of doing things today. That is where I see a more evolved kind of capitalism emerging, and that is something we can all contribute to, right here, right now.

          • roger nowosielski

            Now I am confused. Who is the “we” that you are talking about? Ordinary people like you and me and the contributors to this blog? And in what capacity? For surely, we must be required to have certain abilities and certain powers to act in such a way so as to effect positive changes on a global scale and thus reverse present trends. And if we don’t have such abilities and powers, as individuals, to make a positive kind of change, and contribute, as you say, then perhaps we must organize in such a way so as to acquire those powers, pull together of our resources, etc, etc.

            Barring that, however, and until that happens, I’m afraid we’re at the mercy of the capitalist class with a capital C, for it is that class and not other, with all the resources at its disposal, that purportedly meets our needs on a global kind of scale. And if that’s the case, then the “we” pronoun falls out of the equation for it no longer includes any of us. It’s the capitalist class, then, that must try to do things in a smarter way and make a positive contribution to the future of humanity. They must stop being all-preoccupied with the bottom line and become . . . philanthropists.

            I wonder where the motivation would come from.

          • People in a park, and almost everywhere else, demonstrate the viability of an anarchic social situation, against arguments (for example Aristotle’s) that human beings are somehow naturally divided into masters and slaves and must live under such arrangements.

            Once we agree that it is at least possible for humans to choose to live without permanent institutions of coercive violence, it seems only reasonable to ask why we don’t make that choice. This is a question for everybody, not just anarchists. For instance, years ago I had a long go-’round with a fellow on a basically Marxist mailing list who said he didn’t like anarchism because he believed that an anarchistic world could not reliably produce big airplanes, and he liked flying to France every summer. (As a well-positioned academic, I guess he had long vacations.) I thought it was a reasonable argument but wanted to know if anyone could figure out how many people had to be killed per airplane. (Because the state does have to kill people now and then, or no one will believe in it.) I don’t know if we ever came to a conclusion on that, but in any case, you can see that tastes may differ — if violence gets you big airplanes, and you like them a lot, you may come to figure a little of it is okay.

            I am kind of surprised that you think ‘we’ can contribute anything to a more evolved capitalism right here and right now. If there is one feeling among the people that is very pervasive in the present world, it’s one of helplessness and hopelessness, especially in regard to any matters outside the (anarchic) personal and familial areas. We can’t stop the wars; we can’t stop the imperialism; we can’t stop the destruction of the physical environment; we can’t stop the police-state surveillance; we can’t stop police harassment and sometimes murder, especially of the improperly pigmented; we can’t do much of anything about corporate behavior; we have absurd, destructive IP laws because some rich people want them; our economy is almost completely beyond our control, and for 80% of the population the situation is deteriorating. It doesn’t matter who we vote for or what products we choose (or boycott). The basic principles of capitalism — accumulation, domination, and exploitation — may evolve, but what are they going to evolve into besides more accumulation, domination, and exploitation, and how? I don’t see it. Indeed, my path to anarchism began in the 1960s exactly because I observed the ineffectiveness of liberal capitalist politics, social-democratic variety, to accomplish much of anything.

            There doesn’t seem to be anything the rich can’t buy. That certainly takes care of representative democracy, but goes beyond. Did you know that some corporations have been taking over the mainline Civil Rights organizations? (see

          • An anarchic social situation doesn’t have anything at all to do with how people’s needs are provided for, so it proves nothing.

            Most people aren’t living in conditions of coercive violence so I am once again left puzzled as to the utility of your argument.

            Most countries don’t have capital punishment – the USA is a rare exception against that in the West – so again, the state, outside of states like North Korea, isn’t killing anybody.

            I don’t know anybody that feels helpless or hopeless, so maybe that is just a function of how you or your friends feel. Clearly we are living with mindsets of different expectations of achievement.

            I share many of your concerns about militarism and the powers of the police, and this is particularly so in the USA post 9/11. However, most of these situations are part of the now in the USA, not intrinsic to the human condition.

            What contemporary politics needs in most countries is a more informed and better educated electorate that doesn’t have unreal expectations and demands more from politicians.

            We also need less government, not more, and less legal intrusion into people’s freedoms, which is again more characteristic of the USA over the last 30 or 40 years. If you don’t want to work to change those things, you can always emigrate, just as people always have moved around the world.

            Capitalism isn’t about accumulation, domination and exploitation; it’s “an economic system in which capital assets are privately owned and items are brought to market for profit”. Most of the time, private ownership tends to be less bad than state ownership, which tends to require more control.

            Things like accumulation, domination and exploitation are not features or requirements of capitalism, they are just things that some, but not all, capitalists do.

            If your road to anarchism started in the 1960s, then what significant large scale achievements can we attribute to anarchy over the last 50 years?

            Contrast that with liberal capitalism, which has lifted more people out of poverty over the last 50 years and is on track to eliminate poverty within the lifetimes of many alive today.

            I certainly don’t see democracy as the ultimate in government and would welcome a more liberal and anarchic approach. What I don’t see is how we get there from here without the use of capitalism to finance the process.

            I’ve made the point before that we shouldn’t get hung up on money; it’s just a kind of energy and can be directed to good or bad outcomes, just as all energy or power can.

            It follows then that capitalism can also be directed to more positive or negative outcomes dependent on the wishes of the players.

            It doesn’t really matter whether that is in the shape of something like the Gates Foundation, which is using the vast profits Bill Gates made with Microsoft to “to enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty globally, and in America, to expand educational opportunities and access to information technology”, little old me using capitalism to fund animal welfare or someone like Michael Pritchard developing the LifeSaver water purification bottle in response to the 2004 Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina.

            I’m slightly exhausted after putting that together and it’s after midnight here so I’ll return to this topic tomorrow.

            G’night all.

          • I’ll just focus on one thing here. To wit, ‘I don’t know anybody that feels helpless or hopeless, so maybe that is just a function of how you or your friends feel. Clearly we are living with mindsets of different expectations of achievement.’

            The idea that a lot of people feel powerless has been a staple of public discourse since the days of Network, although of course it goes in and out of fashion. The most recent upsurges have resulted in the Tea Party and the Occupy movement(s).

            I participated a lot in the old Usenet, for about 20 years, and engaged in many, many discussions of the type going on here. One of the things I discovered is that people’s thoughts seemed to be largely governed by their life experiences, including the mental framework inculcated in early childhood, through which subsequent experiences are filtered. Regardless of the presentation of evidence and logic (to say nothing of polemic), their thoughts did not change, and this makes sense — mere assertions, mere words, are unlikely to affect living experience, especially when it is self-reinforcing, as belief systems tend to be. (When a person’s belief system is broken, it is often a shocking, even debilitating event — a ‘conversion experience’ — requiring much time, energy, and attention to deal with. Hence such breaks tend to be avoided.)

            For this reason, I’m doubtful about the effectiveness of Internet and print activism. I’ve done a little soft-shoe here about the problems of capitalism, but the fact is if someone didn’t see the problems before I wrote, they’re very unlikely to see them after. There is not much use in frustrating myself about it.

            What I like about Food Not Bombs and some similar exercises is that instead of theorizing and propagandizing, the activists enact their beliefs (in the case of Food Not Bombs, what amounts to a little food communism). I can’t say this has brought about world revolution yet, but on the other hand, the ‘hippies’ as we might call them (using the term very loosely), the wets, the lifestyle creeps, have had a tremendous effect on the world while everyone was despising them. So I guess that’s how it’s done. And that’s what I should pay attention to.

          • My sentiments as well. Can’t change indoctrination. So, I will do what I can and try not to work myself up into a fairtheewell of farking pissoffedness about blatant injustice and how it is accepted and even promoted by oppressors and victims alike. I will do my best to forgive what I see as ignorance that hurts and try to remember that there is an innocence even in being the victim of indoctrination.

            And anyhow I have a new direction . Science is on the verge of demonstrating (as opposed to postulating amazing theories to counter the evidence) that the universe does not make sense. I cannot wait until 2015 when new evidence should be forthcoming.

          • If the universe made sense, then the game of Science would be over. The ghost of Uncle Albert would have to add that not only was Der Herrgott not malicious, he could be taken.

          • But we can, and do, change indoctrination all the time! Where do you get these ideas from? Just one example, a few hundred years ago almost everyone in Europe subscribed to Catholicism, which is not the case now.

            I read the article you linked to, Cindy, and have read several others on the same topic. Fun stuff and interesting times. I, too, look forward to seeing how this unfolds.

          • Chris,

            I didn’t mean to say that indoctrinated ideologies do not ever change or even that people cannot break partly free of their indoctrinated ideas. The vagaries of words…hmmm, as I did seem to say just that. I was being emphatic. As in you can’t fight city hall. While sometimes you can, it isn’t the rule. Anyway, I was speaking with regard to person to person exchanges and the difficulty in changing minds that have been culturally indoctrinated (which goes for my own mind, as well).

          • Hi Cindy!

            Cultures evolve too…

            Nothing is infinite, so best to be prepared to abandon any ship at any time!

          • Hiya Christopher,

            You bet. Ready to jump and even waiting!

            Did you happen to notice google’s doodle today? Coincidentally to our comments, it happens to be about Schrodinger.

            I haven been reading (listening really via to Brian Greene’s The Hidden Reality. Do you read his stuff? Fascinating!!! Very dense and it takes four or more repeats for every idea just to scratch a vague comprehension in me. But still he is one of the most readable physicists I’ve found. Here is his interview about the book. It is an 80 minute program. I haven’t watched the whole thing yet. I am half way through the book.

          • roger nowosielski

            You know, you got a point there.

            To cite a memorable passage from Eduardo Galeano’s “In Defense of the Word,” p. 12 (see the link above to Open Veins of Latin America):

            …We are what we do, especially what we do to change what we are….In this respect a “revolutionary” literature written for the convinced is just as much an abandonment as is a conservative literature devoted to the contemplation of one’s own navel. …

            So isn’t it the case, all considering, that perhaps we’re wasting our time blogging in here (or anywhere else for that matter).

          • Well, if it’s entertaining or enlightening. It’s almost certainly not going to change the world.

          • roger nowosielski

            I’d like to believe otherwise, that literature and art in general can make a difference, It has certainly had its impact in affecting our consciousness, for better or for worse,

          • I mean it’s not going to change the world as a whole, is some massive way. Of course every action changes the world, but almost all of them change it locally. That’s why William Blake said that if you wanted to do good, you had to do it in minute particulars. Which, along with Quantum Mechanics, takes us to this essay , which, like the universe, may not make sense, but sure has nice decor.

          • roger nowosielski

            I realize progress is infinitesimal and hopelessly painstaking.

            Which isn’t to say I subscribe to Chris Rose’s notion of evolution at work.

          • Progress is sometimes infinitesimal but at other times it can be both massive and sudden.

            That is characteristic of evolution, whether that be the evolution of species, practices or thoughts.

            All species are evolving, although often at different rates; humanity is one of the youngest species on the planet, having been around only a couple of hundred thousand years and only started maintaining permanent population centres about 10,000 years ago, so it stands to reason that we are probably evolving faster than species that have been around for hundreds of millions of years.

            I suspect that we ain’t seen nothing yet and that the changes to come will be both profound and radical.

          • The question is what you want to be a part of.

          • No, Roger, we aren’t wasting our time. Through this medium we are exchanging ideas and many of us have evolved our thinking through the process. I literally can’t count the number of ways that my views have developed through the various threads I have participated in on this site.

            What we all have to do – or learn to do – is be very careful about what we let ourselves believe and be prepared to abandon those beliefs when they are no longer true or relevant, just as we would abandon disproven scientific theories. We need to be more nimble in our thinking, which clearly becomes more challenging over time, but has to be done.

          • Maybe you really do need to meet some new people. Without wishing to be ageist, if you were moving towards anarchism in the 60s, you’re no youngster; pessimism is more common in older people than the young, and your approach just seems world weary.

            The pattern of people’s thoughts you describe is in fact part of the problem. Relying on subjective experience, although understandable, is almost always going to be problematic. That’s why faithists stick so blindly to their views for a start.

            It seems to me that it is actually yourself that is sticking to your pre-existing beliefs rather than finding solutions to current challenges and adopting new ways. Shed your skin, Anarcissie..!

          • Much of my social life is now with people who are considerably younger than I am. This is not always a good thing, because they can stay up all night and I can’t, so I miss all the good parties (or most of them, anyway). The other problems with them are that they move away, or become middle-aged and sink down under the burdens of employment and family life.

            Most of the time, people stick to their pre-existing beliefs. Their fundamental ideas about what they should consider real, important, valuable, and so forth, appear to be laid down in early childhood, more by example than precept. There is also probably a lot of genetic programming involved. Once this framework is in place, perceptions which contradict it are rejected or reconstructed to agree with it, so it tends to reinforce itself. However, most people also seem to be able to maintain mutually contradictory views of things without much difficulty, so they are saved from complete mental rigidity. This ability is derided as ‘doublethink’ in George Orwell’s 1984, but it is actually probably highly beneficial, indeed, necessary for survival.

            The interrogation of one’s subjective experiences and daily life is necessary because of the absence of reliable media and authoritative sources of information where people’s interests and prejudices are involved.

          • roger nowosielski


            I don’t mean to interrupt your sleep, but yours is not a good argument. For you to claim that you “don’t know anybody that feels helpless or hopeless” is truly reminiscent of George Herbert Bush when he wondered about the supermarket scans. It’s so completely out of touch that it is perturbing. I realize that you live in an enclave, but that’s no excuse, especially for a thinking person, to base your argument on your singular perspective.

            “Most people aren’t living in conditions of coercive violence” is another one of your idiosyncratic statements. You’re not in the UK, to the best of my knowledge, so again, it looks as though you’re extrapolating from your present condition. Furthermore, for you to be singling out the US as an anomaly is a further indication of how much you’re out of touch. The kind of condition that Anarcissie was trying to address is not restricted to the United States alone. It is more or less prevalent all over the world.

            Further, one could seriously object to you saying that “liberal capitalism . . . has lifted more people out of poverty over the last 50 years and is on track to eliminate poverty within the lifetimes.”

            In the first place, the very expression, “liberal capitalism” is an oxymoron. What in the hell do you mean by that? But aside from that, it’s patently untrue. The nations that have been colonized have certainly been better off prior to the onset of colonization than ever thereafter. And to reduce this claim to its bare minimum. we can surely say, and with confidence, that there was no food crisis or hunger prior to the colonization experiment. Now, all of the sudden, there is. So to add insult to injury, now you claim that the very system that had brought impoverishment and misery to the colonized peoples is doing its best to eliminate poverty and hunger in the world.

            Go figure!

          • Roger, once again you confuse me.

            I truly don’t know anybody that feels helpless or hopeless; you may not want to believe it but it is true. I double checked with my wife and she agreed, we don’t!

            I’ve no idea what you mean when you assert I live in an enclave; what do you mean? It certainly came as news to me.

            Also, I do live in the UK most of the time, although not all year round. Where do you get these notions from? It’s certainly not from me.

            The USA IS an anomaly in many ways; if you don’t see that, you need to get out more.

            You’re 100% wrong to reject my statements that “Most people aren’t living in conditions of coercive violence” and that “”liberal capitalism . . . has lifted more people out of poverty over the
            last 50 years and is on track to eliminate poverty within the

            Go do the research on the latter and try to provide support for the idea that most people are living under coercion.

            Oh, and the phrase “liberal capitalism” was first used on this thread by Anarcissie, so go take it up with her!

            To attempt to address your other misconceptions; colonization wasn’t an “experiment”. Population levels everywhere are of a completely different order now than they were so it is literally meaningless to compare hunger levels then to now.

            It isn’t all of a sudden, you are simply ignoring these massive changes in population.

            Modern worldwide farming methods are feeding huge amounts of people and without them you would quickly find out what hunger is really all about.

            It’s actually impossible to say that colonization brought impoverishment and poverty to people, although that’s not to say that it it was a good thing. It was inevitable at some stage of the global discovery process that went on in that time period though, so trying to apply your criteria to it in that way has about as much point to it as trying to depict something like Katrina in that way.

            Finally, if you can’t see that some processes can create both “bad” effects and “good” effects, your perception is strangely un-nuanced and crude. Sorry, bud, it is you that is making no sense on this, so go figure some more!

          • I believe it was I who introduced the phrase ‘liberal capitalism’. Often I write ‘liberalism-capitalism’, a more explicit but ungainly expression of my view that the two are one, that liberalism is the political system of capitalism and capitalism is the economic system of liberalism. There are illiberal versions of capitalism, but they tend to devolve back toward feudal arrangements. Given the deterioration of the USAn and Canadian polities as examples, and many European examples in an earlier period, we might guess that all liberalism-capitalism tends to deteriorate: the rich get richer, their power increases, and the temptation to rig the game becomes irresistible.

          • I find that confusing as not many people would find many of the governments of the USA since 1981 onwards to be very liberal at all.

            Given that, it follows then that the observation that liberal(ism) capitalism is deteriorating seems unfounded.

            It’s certainly true that, as a generalisation, the rich get richer but, in the Western nation states there are limits on how much power one can have, regardless of game rigging.

            However, it is also true that as barriers to entry fall, the possibilities for anybody to empower themselves increase and that is what we are seeing more and more of these days.

            I’m no massive fan of most of them but many of the biggest companies in the USA today, the Googles, Apples and Facebooks, didn’t even exist a generation ago.

            On a smaller scale, there are many more opportunities for people to access the systems and direct them to their own ends than ever before.

          • As to deterioration, I’m impressed with the fact that the standard of living of most of the population of the U.S. has declined since the 1970s. I’m also impressed with the fact that both of the major parties are owned and operated by and for a class or category of people who seem to be mainly finance capitalists (that is, capitalists who prey on other capitalists). (I believe this is also true in Canada and the UK.) I am also impressed by the endless series of imperial wars. I am also impressed by the breadth and depth of police surveillance. And so on.

            In theory, capitalism, while perhaps cruel and inhumane, should at least be self-correcting. However, what appears to happen in practice is that the leading capitalists get control of the government and then (as we observed in 2008) raid the cookie-jar. Criminals and incompetents are bailed out and set up again to continue their depredations. I take it something like this happened in Europe prior to the upsurge of socialist and fascist revolutions there in the ’20s and the ’30s. It seems to be a repeated pattern.

        • roger nowosielski

          And one might add:

          “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

          The Declaration of Independence of the Thirteen Colonies
          In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776

          • The idea that “all men are created equal” is one of the biggest lies ever told.

            That and the creator myth are responsible for a lot of really bad things in the human story.

  213. Much agua under the bridge since yesterday morning. – polluted, but that’s a sign of the times. There are a couple of open questions put to me in the mess below that I’ll respond to up here.

    Chris – capitalist businesses come in various sizes. My understanding of the minimum requirement for success is that one employ capital and labor to produce a commodity that can be sold at a profit; the picture for financial capitalists appears somewhat more complex.

    I do understand that you will use the term to mean just what you want it to…nothing more, nothing less.

    Anarcissie – the context in which I do have problems with authority is that in which it enables the domination by one of another.

    • troll, your understanding of capitalism needs expanding in that one can also employ capital and labour to provide services, not just commodities.

      As to domination of some by others, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it is however always a bad thing when people are dominated by others against their will.

      • Note the term ‘minimum requirement’. I won’t quibble over whether or not goods and services are all commodities.

        ‘Domination’ like most words has a number of senses, I guess.

        • I thought commodities meant physical things but maybe my understanding was too literal?

          What do you mean when you use the word domination then?

          • While I can imagine a situation in which a person willfully accepts domination with bad results, your will requirement is pretty ok.

            A service is a physical thing, isn’t it – sure feels that way while I’m trimming equine feet.

          • …speaking of which – later.

  214. Folks who talk poetically about causes worth dying for miss the point. Dying is easy. The question is, rather, what cause is worth killing for?

    • Very few causes are worth killing for, although there are some. It was certainly acceptable to kill Germans in WW2 to prevent their aggression.

      Not sure if any other large wars since then have had that quality and certainly Vietnam/Iraq/Afghanistan didn’t meet that test.

    • Some people enjoy killing for itself.

      However, instead of asking what cause is worth killing for, one might want to ask what cause is worth paying somebody else to kill for? Because that’s what people usually do. The government of the United States has killed millions of people since the end of World War 2, and maimed, terrorized, tortured, imprisoned, and robbed millions more, most of them in no way threatening the U.S. as a whole or any of its inhabitants, in pursuit of its ‘interests’. The people voted for the government and paid taxes to it, so presumably they went along with it. I don’t think they got much out of it; maybe some entertainment, or a feeling of righteousness.

      • I would propose a general tax strike pending peace on earth, but that might be construed by some to be an act of seditious conspiracy…so I won’t.

        • Actually, the government doesn’t need your taxes. It ‘prints’ the money it needs; then it taxes the population to remove enough money to inhibit vices like inflation and working-class capital accumulation.

          • Yes, and, as your previous comment indicated, like voting, paying taxes is a symbolic gesture legitimizing the governors.

      • Some people enjoy killing for itself.

        According to Grossman’s research for On Killing such pathology is present in as much as 4% of the population.

        • Certainly some do, and others enjoy watching it, or at least representations of it. What is to be done for them? I suppose action movies assuage some of the thirst. There is the possibility of gladiatorial combat, but it seems a bit dangerous. I would like the get them out of radical politics, in spite of brother Franz (so far). Of course if there is already overt violence, there is nothing to do but dig on in, I suppose.

  215. roger nowosielski

    Comments should be posted on top, unless they’re peripheral with respect to the main topic. It’s nearly impossible at this point to track them down.

  216. Roger – a few minute search didn’t produce a link to transcripts of the Anarchist Turn conference at the New School, the venue of Butler’s talk.

  217. Chris – you challenged us to research your claim that capitalism is on track to eliminate poverty in 50 years, so I did a bit.

    The banks have not been socialized (just their debts) nor have steps been taken politically to bring on a regime of ‘honest capitalism’ through regulation – so, what do you mean by ‘on track’?

  218. Hi troll, wasn’t aware that I issued any such challenge but whatever!

    I don’t seem able to make a connection between poverty elimination and bank socialization or honest capitalism; how did such linkage occur?

    I was referring to sources such as this Poverty Reduction on Wikipedia, which is both a good read and a source of many other links that can be explored.

    Other material I would point to includes the always inspiring TED – Poverty , the World Bank, whose president Jim Yong Kim, thinks it can be done by 2030, Poverty (nice graph on that page showing the changes in numbers of people living on less than $1.25 a day since 1981 to 2008), Global Urban Development has a nice article, albeit overly optimistic, by the very inspirational Muhammad Yunus. You could also refer to the United Nations Development Programme’s work on Poverty Reduction.

    • Each plan that I checked out based its projection on some radical shift in behavior such as ‘socializing the banks’ or requiring an honest capitalism through political reform. Thanks for your links; I’ll check them out.

  219. Hey troll, as per Roger’s suggestion, I’m not using the reply function anymore, so will just keep posting on top.

    Incidentally, I’ve found an option in Disqus to have the oldest comment at the top rather than the newest; would you guys prefer it if I reversed the order or do you like it the way it is?

  220. Chris – better with Newest first imo.

    So far from your links I get the impression that all we need to do to eliminate poverty w/in 50 years is get rid of corruption and economic turmoil in the world…I’m all for it. Making the World Safe for Microloans. Do you get the impression we’re on tract to this?

  221. How were some groups able to maintain relatively stable population sizes for hundreds if not thousands of years even in situations of plenty whereas it has taken a relatively short period of time to …..exceed the amount of labor power that we can consume under capitalism?

  222. roger nowosielski

    Don’t quite understand the phrase starting with “exceed . . .” Could you put it differently?

    In any case, I’m less than confident about the statistical measure of the poverty quotient than Chris happens to be. For example, going strictly by what had transpired in the US since the sixties, let’s say, I’d argue that there has definitely been a shift downwards, and I don’t see how it can possibly be reversed.

    Speaking of that time frame, a hundred dollar a week salary was quite sufficient, if the person were frugal, to meet their most basic needs: food, shelter, etc (without the aid of food stamps). And I’m talking about New York City, of all places. A bank president (of Agency Bank of America, NY, in this instance) commanded the astronomical salary of . . . twenty thousand per year. So if we narrow down our question, for the time being, to the US alone, the story is definitely different insofar as the working class is concerned than what the statistics seem to suggest. In addition to the job crisis, there’s a definite housing crisis in the US today; and I think that the availability of food and decent shelter are more important indices of individual well-being than the kind of trinkets he or she may acquire in the market place, be it a smart phone from Apple or a laptop.

  223. We live in a world economy in which it is acceptable that a repository of labor power starve to death every few seconds indicating a general excess of labor power imo.

  224. I think that we can kink the downward trend to the failure of fordist sentiment among the capitalists and their governors in the face of intensified competion.

  225. …and link it too