Tuesday, October 30, 2012

In certain ways, we're more Statist than Europe

Not a comment on Obama whatsoever, but on the system we have. Although the State, as such, is much more expansive in the European Union, the basis of it there is Parliamentary democracy,  as opposed to the Presidential system, with exceptions such as France. This leads to a fundamentally different conception of what the State is, because the division between the executive and the representatives of the people in general is abolished. In Europe the Crown and the Cabinet were once one, but over time they separated, either through revolution or through evolution, so that the symbolic role of the monarch, who can be paralleled to the President, became less and less and the Cabinet itself became more important. Formally, the change started with representatives or members of Parliament submitting 'suggestions' as to who the cabinet, including the Prime Minister, should be composed of, suggestions that were approved by the Crown. Since then it's become pretty autonomous.

Because of this, the State, as such, is not an autonomous entity that is thought to lord over society, but is instead part of the administration of things, to use a Marxist term. This is very different from Absolutism, where the reverse was the case. But, here in the U.S. we still have the vestigal remains of the Absolutist way of thinking, where the President and the Executive branch have to have complete autonomy from the Legislative---or bad things will happen. What it creates in practice is a sphere separate from democratic control as a whole, where every four years we have a contest to elect a monarch that we can't do anything about for the next four years. Instead, let's abandon the false notion of a necessary division of power between the legislative and the executive and subject the executive to the direct and constant control of the people through their Representatives and Senators in Congress.

Making the Executive branch as autonomous as it is only encourages the existence of a realm of State unaccountability. 


The origin of the State, my take on it.

I think that the State as we know it came from the Absolutist State that rose out of the remains of feudalism in the 15th century. This entity was formed through a fundamental alteration in the rules governing feudal society, which before had put many intervening layers between serfs and monarchs. One of the maxims of the feudal period was that "The vassal of my vassal is not my vassal", but as time went on, because the kings ultimately controlled things, that lack of direct connection between monarch and subject was eroded, and along with it went the power of the lesser nobility, and correspondingly the power of the monarchies were inflated. This lead to a centralization of power in the hands of the court around the kings and a greater control of the country by the State itself---taken as what the power of the King and his court consisted of.

It should be noted that government doesn't automatically equal a State, and when it does, that State isn't necessarily what we think of as the State, since forms like the Roman Empire had many differences to the Absolutist states of the past.

Bourgeois and workers, or, a kid builds a house in his backyard

As reported in The Huffington Post Here. Looking at his video of the small house on wheels in his parents' spacious backyard, what comes to mind is how different chances at doing great things that appear wonderful on college resumes are for folks who are higher middle class and folks who are working class folks with much less money available. Sure, he says that he funded building a friggin' house with money from being a summer camp instructor....another bourgeois privilege.....and through salvaging materials, but I'd question that. Of course, I don't have a window into this guy's life, but what great freedom he must have to be able to concentrate on this project for several years instead of on doing things that will prepare him for life after school. It's the same with Soccer Mom's facilitating their kids' phenomenal after school activities. Little Steve is able to do all these cool sports, and not only that but help out at the old folks home and do a bunch of other things, because his parents have the money and the time to make the possibilities happen for him.

*on edit: I can think also of how James Mill, the father of John Stuart Mill, wanted to create the perfect environment for his kid to grow up in, so Mill, quite rich, arranged for his son to be awakened by violins every morning. J.S. Mill was a great philosopher, but it goes to show you what's possible if you have both disposable income and a stable life with little uncertainty about what the future can hold for you.

The Arab Spring and China, two visions

Reading about the recent censorship of the New York Times online in China in the wake of the report on the personal wealth of Wen Jiabao, China's head, as well as that of his family, I can't help but contrast it to the events of the Arab Spring earlier in the year. There, you have a group of folks who wanted democracy and liberty, albeit sometimes with a cultural Islamic twist, as the recent elections in Egypt demonstrated, and in China you have a country that's willing to censor one of the world's top papers, denying access to it for over 1 billion people, because they're afraid of how a critical report on their leadership will look.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Rural Americans like special privileges---the country's over representation in American politics

Something that should get more attention. We have a wonderful system here in the United States where our upper house, the Senate, is arranged so that states that have a population of less than New York City, like North Dakota, have the same amount of Senators as New York State itself. The pattern repeats itself over and over again with small rural states and states where the majority of the population lives. The reasoning behind it was that folks didn't want the people in the originally large population centers in the colonies to dominate over rural interests, so a balance was aimed at. But now, that balance is more of a veto, where you don't really find any sort of parity but an extreme bias to places with a miniscule population, putting the ideas and beliefs that these folks have into the limelight to a much greater extent than would be the case if we were dealing with absolute numbers.

In other words, rural folks in the U.S. benefit from being minorities who have disproportionate power over the American political system, something that they regularly accuse ethnic minorities of having.

So what does balance between rural and urban really consist of, or what would it consist of if the principle were to be really adopted? First of all, we'd have to establish what sort of country we'd really like--one that was ultimately democratic or one that was not ultimately democratic, by which I mean whether the majority in the end does rule or not. We can set things up so that the power of absolute majorities is diluted, but when the day is up there needs to be a clear statement on whether the voice of the majority ultimately does carry or whether it doesn't. If it does, and the U.S. honors democratic principles, then the question becomes just how much power is appropriate for rural areas have to achieve a kind of balance.

From what I've just outlined, a good start would be enough power to have their voice heard but not enough to consistently nullify the will of the majority.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

"Sexism and the New Atheism" from CounterPunch

Here, by Jeff Sparrow, about the treatment of Rebecca Watson. Good article, but, strangely enough, makes the whole thing a contrast between their condemnation of Islam and how they treat folks. In any case, the swagger of the New Atheist movement leaves much to be desired, and I think that its origin really lies in the repressed, overwhelmingly male, online nerd/geek/techie culture that much of the New Atheism developed in before hitting the mainstream. The same sorts of things that you see in stuff like the Reddit  editor Michael Brutsch aka Violentacrez' actions are present in the New Atheist subculture, as they are in Objectivist culture, as they are in much of the rest of geek/tech and internet centric culture.

It's a sad thing, and dangerous, the product of guys who never grew out of the ethos of early adolescent sleepovers where there would be all night video game playing, chip eating, and maybe even, oh my god, PORN, if you could get a hold of it.

*on edit: my personal opinion about the "New Atheists", or many of them at least, is that they're folks who have taken to the idea of a superficial understanding of Reason as the cornerstone of a self-validating belief system that makes them think they're in touch with the vanguard of society, because Reason intersects with science, even though many of the rank and file are really just scientific wannabes who read popular physics accounts and tell themselves how smart they are.

*on edit 2: here's an anecdote. I was hanging out at a geek heavy place and ended up sitting between two people who were having a conversation where one of the guys, in his mid forties I'd guess, was telling the other guy, of the same age, about how he was really enthusiastic about reading "Gödel, Escher, Bach". The other guy had told the first one that he was a cryptographer and they were talking a little bit about that. After the reader had finished and gotten up, the crypto guy says to me that he read that book when he was in high school. Yet, that was the dude's geek cred right there, and he probably thought he was a genius for delving through "Gödel, Escher, Bach".

Monday, October 22, 2012

Honoring Russell Means, rest in peace

Another one. Means told some hard truths and was uncompromising, was a founding member of the American Indian Movement and stayed true to the end. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

New England Transcendentalism II: from the "Transcendtal Perspective" to "Transcendental Idealism"

This goes along with the post previous to this one with Ralph Waldo Emerson in its title. There, I talked briefly about Kant's "Transcendental Perspective", which is cognition looking at itself from the point of view of the mind as the intermediary between exterior experience, on the one hand, and biological processes, on the other. Because the mind is in between these two, and we have the capacity to think, we have a much different perspective on life than many of the other objects that we see in our world. But how do you get from a "Transcendental Perspective" to "Transcendental Idealism"?

The way is, while not necessarily simple, at least clear: the Idealists, following Kant, appreciated the unique perspective that possessing cognition gives, as well as the limitations of perceiving the world through these lenses of perception. We can only see what our cognition has processed from raw sense data, never the things in themselves, and instruments that extend our range of perception are ultimately limited by their data having to be interpreted by human beings.

However, the way the mind works is very different from the way that the external world appears to work. Our methods of processing data and the transactions of thought are different in quality from what physical processes appear to act like. Because, as the intermediary between biology and experience, our minds stand at a boundary, you could say that they are "things in themselves" as well, "things in themselves" that have the unique capability to observe themselves and write about what they see.

The Transcendental Idealists thought that the way we think, as things in ourselves, may be a mode of operation that has something to do with how the world actually functions beyond our limited interpretations of sense data. This was not, as some people have thought, saying that "All is Mind", but instead saying that beyond what we, as limited creatures, perceive, is a reality that obeys rules that are similar in how they operate to the laws of thought....something that makes much more sense now that we have computers and Process Philosophy.

The Process Philosophers, like Alfred North Whitehead, I think came close to what some, but not all, of the Transcendental Idealists were trying to say about the nature of the external world through looking at nature as being composed both of static material components and actions that existed in process, that interacted with each other in process, to move and direct that world according to particular laws.

These processes, or transactions, can be looked at in parallel with computer processes, and mental transactions can be paralleled with operations that are carried out by computers as well, meaning that the commonality between a level of Mind or Cognition and the nature of reality as it exists beyond our processing of sense data, is more like a universal computational system than "All is Mind".

It's an Idealism, because what they were saying is that what they were perceiving in their heads, when they looked at their thought processes, was an instance of a reality that existed outside of their heads and could be found in nature, meaning that the cognitive Ideal of human beings corresponded in some way to the greater Ideal that existed in the realm of the Things-in-themselves beyond apparent sense data.

While I respect Ralph Waldo Emerson....

I have to say that the New England Transcendentalists in general had no idea what the texts that they were using to base their philosophies on were really about. Emerson was one of the better ones, and still has a lot of very good ideas, but, seriously, the Transcendental Idealism of the New England folks is a bizarre mixture of half understood concepts from Idealist philosophy mixed with lots of other random stuff. "Transcendental" in Idealist thought had to do with the "Transcendental Perspective", which came from Kant, and which the perspective of folks who look at how their mental processes work and try to categorize it. It's transcendental because it's not linked to any particular exterior information, but, as Kant repeats many times, is the form for the substance of this information. On the other hand, it's not bound to pure animal reflex, and so deals with a kind of higher psychology. It transcends both our particular experiences, on the one hand, and our biological, material, programming, instead having to do with the realm of cognition that exists between the two.

George McGovern, rest in peace

McGovern has passed on. I had the great fortune of seeing him speak in Gainesville, Florida, where I lived for about two years, in 2002. Unfortunately, it came within months of 9/11, so as was typical of those times, in the question and answer session one man just went off on him, attacking his call for restraint in foreign policy. Mind you, this was on the University of Florida campus and many of the people in the audience were academics. McGovern tried to answer, but the guy just wasn't having it. It was like a manifestation of the pod people, another thing that was very common at the time. 

I felt sorry for him. He was so nice and reasonable, and seemed to be coming from a very good place with his remarks, which were on a lot of topics, and he was shut down by this dude. 

Hopefully we've moved on to saner times, although time will tell. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

While voting rights are being curtailed in some places, others are extending them

Although it's not overtly labeled that. Instead, it's simply trying to make it easier for people who are registered to vote to be able to vote. Here in Washington State all our elections now have mail in ballots, including the Presidential election. I just voted yesterday, and the big day in November is over three weeks away. No need to show up at the polls on a Tuesday, with mail in ballots people can vote at their leisure. It's very strange to think that this sensible policy is coexisting in a country with ones where a person not only has to show up at a polling place, but show up with proper ID as well as a voter identification card (which you can't get without proper ID).

*and, FYI,  that ballot included both a vote for Obama and a vote for Kshama Sawant, Socialist Alternative candidate for the Washington House who is running against a Democrat who is in turn running unopposed, besides Sawant.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Situationism, Surrealism, Romanticism

Perhaps the connection between Surrealism and Romanticism can be fleshed out through the Situationists, who were the descendants of the Surrealists. The Situationists believed in the "Revolution of Everyday Life", in the words of Raoul Vaniegem, against the empty commodification of consumer society, they believed in taking real life back from the Spectacle of the media/consumer complex and putting meaning back into life. They also believed in the necessity of an economic revolution that would accompany this change, preferring workers' self management and councils.

The Revolution of Everyday Life can be seen as the reinvention of everyday life, the reinvention and reinscription of meaning onto a previously blank slate, one that has been made blank but is not so naturally. In order to do that, new symbols, representations, myths, and ideas have to be manufactured that reflect the underlying experience and reality that exists beneath consumer society. This can either take the form of something purely mechanistic, such as what the Surrealists used in their techniques, from automatism to stimulate new meaning to other techniques designed to 'draw out' meaning from strange corners of life, or it can be less mechanistic and more Idealistic, more Romantic in other words.

To do it this way would involve a return to the direct, human, aesthetic, perception of meaning, putting it forward as a valid impulse, instead of constantly privileging radical self doubt....and it would involve expressing that and putting it forward on the understanding that although perceived by a mind limited by various cultural and historical/economic features, the basic meaning involved still in an Ideal way really does correspond to something that's out there.

This would of course be accompanied by the economic revolution as well. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Surrealism and Romanticism

Both pursued similar aims. The Surrealists saw the world as it had come down to them in the  early 20th century as being devoid of meaning and boring, and so sought to reinvent or re-meaning the world, by devices from humor and irony to explanations into inventing a new mythology that would express the meaning of current society and of life in a more direct way. Interestingly enough, they did all this on the background of a purely scientific understanding of the world. In fact, they went further later in the century by talking about a kind of double revolution, that would consist of the economic or socialist revolution and then the surrealist cultural revolution that would re-enchant the world with meaning.

The Romanticists in Germany and elsewhere similarly wanted to find meaning in a world that Enlightenment thought had left pretty desolate. The difference was that instead of staying within a materialist paradigm they went full on into Idealism, taking Plato as their starting point and then going even further out.

Perhaps a kind of denatured Idealism, stripped of some of its more outlandish statements, can be combined with a Material and economic revolution in order to improve society. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Joe Madziarczyk, contact your son you never acknowledged

Hate to do it this way, but, well, once a person has tried over and over again to establish contact with a person and gotten no response, perhaps public shaming is the right tactic. Joe, please e-mail me, since, you know, we've tried to get a response from you since '95 and you've said nothing. Have a nice day, and enjoy the fireworks.

*on edit: just to be clear, that is Joseph T. Madziarczyk I'm talking about.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Kierkegaard's leap of faith and logic

I would say that K's idea of a leap of faith isn't a total negation of logic, in the sense of doing something inherently counter-intuitive, but instead the substitution and belief of one sort of logic for another. The Leap of Faith was demonstrated most forcefully in his recounting of the story of Abraham and Isaac, with the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice Isaac being understood as a Leap of Faith that put faith in a greater logic than individuals with an egoistic perspective could perceive. K talks about how individuals are limited in their own worlds, so to speak, living with their own conventional and self referential logic, but the Leap of Faith puts faith, so to speak, in a higher logic that can be interpreted not as a religious logic per se, but as a kind of social logic or a logic of the world. This would be similar but at the same time very different from Hegel's conception of the world as the manifestation of absolute Mind/Spirit, the difference being that like some of the earlier Idealists K thought that the ultimate plan of this sort of logic was in the end unknowable, and therefore part of a reality that can only be approached, but never reached, and approached somewhat dimly compared to what folks like Schelling thought was possible.

We are all contextualized in our own little worlds, and breaking out of them into action in the world in a purer way sometimes requires putting what are really petty concerns that don't come from logic considered in a more extensive sense but instead from our selves aside and acting with faith that this greater sense of life ultimately makes sense.

*on edit: this post is based on solving some problems from a paper I wrote in fall 2001 as an undergraduate. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Anarchism and human nature, the Bolsheviks and the subversion of direct democracy

--> One thing, I think, is clear, and that is that in any future society we have to be prepared not simply for the best that human nature has to offer but the worst as well. Which is not to say that anarchist ideals should be thrown over board and something authoritarian put in its place, but instead to suggest that in whatever future society comes to be guards and rules are put together that prevent abuses from happening.

 On the one hand, in the most positive position in anarchism, you have the idea that if we just free people from all oppressive hierarchies that they will automatically act in a good and pure way, will demonstrate complete honesty in their dealings with others, and will never abuse the system in place. There will be no need for compulsion of any sort and society will freely organize itself and flow on its own accord.

On the other hand, there's the sort of counter argument found mostly during the time of Enlightenment Europe, which has not really been present in the United States, that says that human beings are uniquely flawed due to original sin, tainted to be bad from the start, and that because of this there need to be exterior institutions that organize society and keep it in line so that this inherent evil doesn't get out of hand. Traditionally, the institutions proposed have been the Church and Monarchy of some sort, with the Church over looking the moral and ethical life of the people, as well as the spiritual, and the King or Prince organizing and keeping discipline with the more practical aspects of life, like work. In this scenario, the King or Prince is the literal pater familias of the country, who possesses by extension powers over the individual similar to those of a father in a patriarchal situation, i.e. the power to compel people to obey.

Such a thoroughly hierarchical society as this implies would be oppressive in the extreme, and leave very little room for human freedom to exist, freedom allowing the chance for a bad deviation from the prescribed way of acting.

If some sorts of mechanisms of accountability are necessary, if not everything can successfully run of its own accord, these mechanisms should be decided from the ground up and staffed from the ground up, instead of descending from on high, in a representative manner.

Such mechanisms would ideally stop abuses from structurelessness from happening without being oppressive in and of themselves. Authority can be vested collectively in the group.

An example of what can happen if there's too much structurelessness is actually the actions of the Bolshevik Party in starting and then trying to assume the leading role in the Russian Revolution.  What most people don't know is that although Russia was called the Soviet Union, the Soviets, or councils, were not a Bolshevik invention. They were the product of a previous layer of populist and socialist agitation that saw dual decision making bodies develop in many towns and cities. The people who started them were a diverse crowd, that included a strong presence from the Socialist Revolutionary Party, a populist semi-Marxist movement that was the biggest competitor to the Bolsheviks in Russia.

The Russian Revolution was started during the national congress of Soviets in St. Petersburg. There had been a revolution in February that had installed a constitutional government, and now the Soviets from all over Russia were meeting to decided what to do next, with two of the main options being help write a new constitution for Russia or have a revolution.

Many political parties participated in the Soviets, but because the Bolsheviks were centralized and highly disciplined, they were able to work in concert and manipulate things to undermine the democratic nature of the Soviets themselves. While not pure direct democracy, the Soviets were substantially closer to it than parliamentary democracy ever is, and this tendency towards non-organization and openness what exactly what the Bolsheviks exploited for their own ends.

What ended up happening was that the Bolsheviks put forward the idea that although they didn't have absolute support for a revolution, that because they had the majority of delegates from industrial towns and businesses, the majority of working class people as they defined it, that the votes of these folks were more equal than that of others. Workers were supposedly the motor of history, and surely if you have their support you don't need a majority of people to go along with you. Instead, you can impose your will on everyone else, because some animals are more equal than others, to use a phrase from Orwell.  Special pleading, in other words. The Bolsheviks voted on it, decided for revolution, then started it.  The actual Russian Revolution, which broke out after people heard that revolution had started in St. Petersburg, was carried out by a diverse crowd of people who all wanted a revolution, but the Bolsheviks, in organizing it initially, seizing the organs of the State, and having a presence in a lot of places, eventually were able to consolidate control over what was happening.

So the Bolsheviks in part were able to put their regime forward because of a flaw in the more direct democracy of the Soviets, which, much like Occupy in certain cities, were able to be manipulated by organized special interest groups who wanted to impose their own agenda on the whole. Their voices supposedly mattered more than others, like the Bolshevik voices mattered more than the Anarchists, or the Left Socialist Revolutionaries, or any number of other parties. If a more democratically organized society is going to be created, we need to put mechanisms in place to make sure that things like this never happen, and that instead the true will of the whole is respected, and not subverted.

Back to roots, maybe? Romanticism, Tropicalia, Marxism

I periodically do this. Looking back, some of what I consider to be the best writing on the site happened in 2003, the year before I moved to the Northwest, with honorable mention also going to the summer and possibly fall of 2004, when the west coast was still fairly fresh. Since then, results have been somewhat mixed, mainly because relocating to the other side of the country and getting established there takes much time that would otherwise be spent on doing the sort of things that were much easier in Florida. But, hopefully, now things are starting to even out somewhat, and it's as good a time as ever to try to revisit some of the things that kind of got lost in the rush to become a full time college student at Evergreen in order to finish up my degree before just generally living here.

The synthesis of Romanticism and Marxism is still something that I believe has potential, as well as the applied instance of the two in the form of an American Tropicalia, the Tropicalia movement in Brazil having Romantic overtones itself. This all is possible because of a presumed autonomy of the cultural sphere over the economic, where although the cultural sphere is still ultimately determined by the economic there's enough room for creativity that can be expressed through things that treat culture and alienation deriving from it as being somewhat valid in and of themselves. This, if the overall context is recognized and culture ultimately contextualized within the material economic framework of society. Culture is not primary, but it also is not simply a product of economic conditions, and has some validity in and of itself.


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Aquinas and idiocy

You could even look at what St. Thomas Aquinas was doing in his later Summas as trying to immunize Europe against the strands of more rigorous philosophical thought that were coming from the Islamic and Jewish worlds. After all, he started out with Summa Contra Gentiles, against the Gentiles, by which he meant the Islamic philosophers. These folks, who were very close to Europe via Spain, posed an intellectual threat to the Church's hegemony, especially since they very ably employed Aristotle while the Church in western Europe mostly relied on Plato. So, Aquinas took Aristotle and did everyone a favor by answering whatever questions they may possibly have had for them, meaning that, you know, no need to look over there at what the Islamic philosophers were doing, we've got the answers right here.  Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, in other words. And the work did a good job: it helped Europe stay in idiocy for centuries after Aquinas' death.


We're still dealing with the consequences of Scholasticism in the West

In our culture. The Scholastics, St. Thomas Aquinas and company, were in my opinion the folks who really set Western European culture on its reductionist path, which would unfortunately bear complete fruit centuries later. Their main problem was assuming that everything within the world was eminently logical, with clear cut either/or answers, and that you just had to mechanically apply Aristotelian philosophy to it and it would all make sense. Before them, philosophy, including that of Aristotle, was viewed through a lens that was much more hesitant about making absolute claims regarding right and wrong, truth and falsity.The Scholastic method introduced a kind of clockwork surety regarding the world that just cleared all of that necessary ambiguity away.

It was all very clear, you just had to read the Summas, which even included extensive answers to potential objections--Aquinas answers you before you even pose the question, much like Stalin in his later writings.

Aristotelian logic, in my opinion, is if you look at it actually more nuanced than is sometimes claimed, but the version of it that's come down to us,  that profoundly shapes Western culture to this day, reduces everything to either/or choices so that everything has to be either right or wrong, good or bad, yes or no. If something is right, it's absolutely right, if something is wrong it's absolutely wrong, and there's only one right answer to a question. This approach takes the world and reduces it to a very simplistic machine, a machine that, in fact, only lives in the mind of its makers and has little to do with the actual world out there.

The Protestant reformation, unfortunately, continued the legacy of Scholasticism and put it on an even firmer religious basis, and although the Enlightenment to a certain extent also exemplified some of the flaws of the movement, it's really in its Protestant manifestations that Scholastic either/or thinking is doing its worst harm in the United States today.

Abortion is either absolutely right or absolutely wrong. Either creationism is right or evolution is right, gays are either okay or the worst people on earth. Name your topic, Evangelical protestantism has turned them all into absolute issues on which everything supposedly depends. It would be great if we could get over this trend in the United States, especially since there are much more pressing questions than how many zygotes can fit on the head of a pin.

 

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Value added and the realization of Value

Saying, like in the previous post, that value is constantly added to products as they go up the chain from raw materials up to products, that then eventually reach the consumer, only catches one aspect of the process. Value is added by workers to products at each stage of the game, but it's latent value until those products are sold. The value that comes back to workers, managers, and owners, in businesses isn't the literal value produced by all of them unless they're selling all the products all the time.

So really, the chain of production, going from raw materials up through different products and ending up with consumer products--which fuel the whole thing, is a series of dashes, of production and added value punctuated by gaps in selling, where what's bought is then processed with value added to it and then put forward to be sold once more. Which means that market forces are at work shaping what production looks like in order for more of that value to be realized, even in the most ideal non-planned system.

The money that comes back in the form of revenue that's then distributed between workers, administrative workers, managers, and owners/stockholders, is conditioned by market forces, meaning that it's likely that there will be times when all of them, even workers in a situation where workers own the means of production, will get less money back than the value that they produce. But the question remains how, with the uncertain rate of return, that money and those funds should be allocated within an establishment based on who has done the most productive work to create those funds in general.

Theories of Surplus Value, the creation and distribution of value

The second chapter of Theories of Surplus Value goes a long way to explaining the basis of Marx's ideas on the subject. Value is produced by everyone at their jobs. In fact, the production of something valuable, something that did not exist before, is the only reason why jobs exist in the first place. That and that there's a demand for the transformation and added value that the action of the work produces.

Value is produced on all levels on a chain going from agriculture to industry, the question is how the money that comes from the realization of those values through successfully selling the product is distributed throughout the company that produces the product. Where does the most productivity, the most actions that are necessary for creating the product and bringing it to light come from? Traditionally, people in management and in white collar positions have attributed great amounts of productivity to their administrative actions in coordinating the running of business, while devaluing the actual contributions of the people who do the main work of the job.

Surely, doing the accounting and administrative tasks is work that adds value to things overall, but if you have a car company, for instance, and you have a split between the people who actually do the work of manufacturing the cars and the people who do the background paperwork to coordinate all that and make it work together, in the end it's the people who actually make the cars who have done the work. Does the value that they produce come back to them in a way that's commensurate with that labor is the question.

More Evergreen venting

Just because. I feel that I worked very hard at Evergreen and about the only thing they did for me besides granting me a degree (which I had to first call and then visit the office in order to actually get the diploma months after the ceremony) was to invite me to a job fair that was forty five minutes away by bus at another college on the other side of town. Like many things at Evergreen, the diploma mess up was due to administrative incompetence rather than anything else.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Creating the Sublime in Art

If sophistication means anything, it means being able to portray a subject without resorting to garish stereotypes in order to communicate what you're saying. However, the contradiction involved in creating such works is that often to get to the point where you can do that you have to work through the more stereotyped forms, through what appears to be garish, in representing what you feel is out there, in order to come to the level where that can be communicated by implication instead of by explicit means. This level of implication is the level of the sublime, literally the sublimated, in the sense of Freudian psychiatry, where what has been worked has come to another, more refined, secondary, level. It should be noted that you really can't fake the sublime, or the sophisticated, in that simply putting something out there that looks repressed, restrained, and tasteful, without having gone through the process of exploring its opposite, or at least its more blocky counterpart, in your work, will always yield something that looks fake and that will be of lesser quality.


Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Eric Hobsbawm, a good man has passed on

Hobsbawm was an amazing and sensitive historian. I remember the first time that I encountered his writings, in a comparative politics course where we were studying the resurgence of nationalism, among other trends. Hobsbawm was quoted in an article about the former Yugoslavia, with regards to the Kosovars and the Serbs, which had gone into great depth about all of the history of ethnic conflict between the two peoples...Hobsbawm, after all that, suggested that maybe some of the conflict had to do with the economic collapse of Yugoslavia after '89. It was a Gordian knot moment, where a simple material explanation cut through a lot of the posing that was going on at the time.

But Hobsbawm was anything but a simple materialist. In works like "Customs in Common" Hobsbawm talked about the interrelationship between culture and economics in a deep and sensitive way that attributed semi-autonomy to the cultural sphere. Jonathan Jones, in The Guardian, gives a great tribute to Hobsbawm's cultural work here "Eric Hobsbawm changed how we think about culture". On a personal level, his explanations of where the Tartan patterns actually came from ("Customs in Common")as well as reasons why shoemakers and tailors have conventionally been associated with radical politics ("Uncommon People")were pieces that melded a great sensitivity to his topic with incisive analysis that was far from treating the people involved as simple manifestations of economic forces.

Hobsbawm could definitely stand up for a rigorous economic analysis as well, though, for instance in his great book "Industry & Empire", where he charted the course of the English Industrial Revolution and how it effected both British culture and world culture as a whole, while looking at the inter-relationship between internal British economic development and what colonialism and trade brought to it.

All in all, while in some places he could come off as a little doctrinaire in his Marxism, this doctrinaire nature only stands out in relation to the more liberal titans of British Marxist history like E.P. Thompson, whose work was sublime.

His presence will be missed.