Sunday, October 02, 2016

Toxic Thoughts

“Reason writes history but passion makes it.” Feuerbach

What will tomorrow bring? Our view of the world around is one based upon capitalist accumulation and of human beings being exploited. In all fields of science, both natural and social, the task of apologists for capitalist society is to “prove” that the existing form of society, its class relationships, are eternal. We are taught to believe that capitalism is the natural and only way for people to live. William Golding’s Lord of the Flies is now required reading in school syllabuses all over the world that depicts a tropical paradise turned into a living hell by the ‘nature’ of the boys themselves. But there are alternative, more egalitarian ways of running society. Socialism means that the means of production are owned and controlled by society so that what is produced can be shared out according to people’s needs. Human ‘nature’, it is said, is fundamentally opposed to such a system, since men and women are inherently lazy, selfish and greedy. You can’t change human nature, they tell us. People always have been and always will be, aggressive, war-like, selfish, religious, superstitious, etc.  But how people behave depends very much on the kind of society they live in. Even in this dog-eat-dog rat-race world there are as many examples in everyday life of generosity and self-sacrifice as there are of selfishness and greed. The question is fairly simple. Either human nature is fixed and unchanging, in which case it will tend broadly to reproduce itself and its conditions unchanged over generations, or human nature is ever-shifting, ever-evolving, in which case it will constantly be caught up in remaking and rebuilding itself and its conditions, its culture and its habits. The general conclusion of socialists is inescapable: Many of the problems and social ills of modern society are not accidental, neither are they due to the evil of human nature or decreed by God’s punishment upon Adam and his descendants. Previous minority-ruling-class societies relied on religion as the rationale for their existence. Whenever conservatives are confronted with the consequences of exploitation and oppression, they invariably turn to the human nature argument. The professors and the intellectuals keep telling us socialism is a fruitless experiment doomed to failure. More recently we have the experts in genetics that our traits are inborn but the Socialist Party’s “Are we Prisoners of our Genes?” pamphlet allays our fears of some pre-destination at our birth. 

For sure people do need to survive and so we all need air, food, water, etc. We also have sexual and emotional needs. To live happy lives we seek out physical contact, affection and love. All these features of human nature will be met in socialism and be immeasurably better than now under capitalism. But this is not what people mean when they say socialism is incompatible with human nature and makes such a society impossible. Our present social system, alas, is poorly prepared to grant happiness. Often we must do somebody harm in order to do a good deed for another, and vice versa. The socialist solution to the problem is by making the conditions and circumstances of our daily life humane by re-organising the entire network of economic and social relationships so that the problem itself disappears, so that no-one ever has to choose between the demands of the “conscience” and the dictates of “reason”.  

We are told by our ‘betters’ that workers are too stupid to run industry. Someone always has to be boss. But we do run it, from top to bottom. The capitalist class are an idle and parasite class who if the wished could sit back and simply live off the stocks and shares that they own and whose dividends are paid fo by the toil, sweat and , yes, the blood, of the working class. The main function of overseers, foremen, supervisors, managers, etc. is not to tell workers how to do the job, but to ensure that they do it for the simple reason that for the simple reason that for workers it is an entirely reasonable inclination to do as little as possible when the work is unpleasant, unnecessary and unappreciated. Marx called it alienated labour.  Those say socialism would not “work” because people would have no incentives to invent, to be innovative, to risk and gamble really have a low opinion of the human race. Just look at those impoverished artists in their garrets creating masterpieces that the galleries decline, or the poor unrewarded inventor whose designs were never taken up until later. Incentives will not be lacking. But they will be different. There will be the desire to be meet the approval by one’s peers. There will competition and rivalry to advance the general good of all but also collaboration and cooperation as we witness today with such projects as the internet’s Wikipedia and open-sourcing in the development of computer soft-ware. Why would we not imagine that there would not exist in socialism ambition to explore the great universe and to unlock its secrets, and to extract from their knowledge new resources for the betterment of all the people? Is it too difficult for us to comprehend, even though we live in a society where the smallest child is taught to fight and claw in a hostile world that we cannot visualise a society without violence. But that’s what socialism means. Men and women will acquire the virtues of solidarity and cooperation, then develop and improve upon them.  The socialist world we aspire to is based upon the free association of completely free men and women, where no separation between private and common interest exists. 

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