Monday, February 22, 2010

The True Levellers

SOYMB came across this interview featuring authors of a book called "The Spirit Level"

The authors Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson, British social scientists, say the severity of social decay in different countries reflects a key difference among them: not the number of poor people or the depth of their poverty, but the size of the gap between the poorest and the richest. It is economic inequality, not overall wealth or cultural differences, that fosters societal breakdown, they argue, by boosting insecurity and anxiety, which leads to divisive prejudice between the classes, rampant consumerism, and all manner of mental and physical suffering.

Reading that , SOYMB was minded of what Karl Marx remarked :-
"A house may be large or small; as long as the neighboring houses are likewise small, it satisfies all social requirement for a residence. But let there arise next to the little house a palace, and the little house shrinks to a hut. The little house now makes it clear that its inmate has no social position at all to maintain, or but a very insignificant one; and however high it may shoot up in the course of civilization, if the neighboring palace rises in equal or even in greater measure, the occupant of the relatively little house will always find himself more uncomfortable, more dissatisfied, more cramped within his four walls."

The Boston Globe interview continues :-

IDEAS: What are the psychological or sociological effects of inequality? Are you saying that the “social pain” you describe can be a cause of violence in unequal societies?
WILKINSON: I think people are extremely sensitive to status differentiation and to being looked down on, or disrespected, and those often seem to be the triggers to violence. We quote an American prison psychiatrist who goes so far as to say he’s never seen a serious act of violence that wasn’t provoked by loss of face or humiliation, and so on. And in more unequal societies, status matters even more. People judge each other more by status. There’s more insecurity. And people at the bottom are more often excluded from the markers of status, the jobs and housing and cars, so they become even more touchy about how they’re seen.
PICKETT: We want bigger houses and more cars, not because we need them, but because we use them to express our status. Material goods are how we show the world we’re keeping up, and in a more hierarchical society that’s more important. Status competition becomes more intense, and that increases our need to consume....We came across a website in England called “Ferraris for all” making the point that if everybody had a Ferrari, there would be no status in owning one.

Exactly! In socialism, status based upon the material wealth at one's command, would be a meaningless concept. The notion of status based upon the conspicuous consumption of wealth would be devoid of meaning because individuals would stand in equal relation to the means of production and have free access to the resultant goods and services . In socialism the only way in which individuals can command the esteem of others is through their contribution to society.

There is in capitalist society a tendency for individuals to seek to validate their sense of worth through the accumulation of possessions. The prevailing ideas of society are those of its ruling class so then we can understand why, when the wealth of that class so preoccupies the minds of its members, such a notion of status should be so deep-rooted. It is this which helps to underpin the myth of infinite demand. It does not matter how modest one’s real needs may be or how easily they may be met; capitalism’s “consumer culture” leads one to want more than one may materially need since what the individual desires is to enhance his or her status within this hierarchal culture of consumerism and this is dependent upon acquiring more than others have got. But since others desire the same thing, the economic inequality inherent in a system of competitive capitalism must inevitably generate a pervasive sense of relative deprivation. What this amounts to is a kind of institutionalised envy and that will be unsustainable as more peoples are drawn into alienated capitalism .

The basic theme of Erich Fromm’s "The Sane Society" is that capitalism, because it encourages competition between individuals, pitting them against each other in a rat race for power, privilege and prestige, is a society that is incompatible with human nature. It is an “insane society”, a “sick society”. Only a society based on co-operation and community is a sane society as one which properly meets the psychological needs of human beings for a sense of belonging; not just a sense of belonging but a state of actually belonging to a real community. Only socialism can offer that .

In a society such as capitalism, people’s needs are not met and people feel insecure. People acquire and hoard goods because possession provides some security. People trend to distrust others because the world is organized in such a dog-eat-dog manner. Disappointingly , the authors of "The Spirit Level" offer no real solutiuon to the problem other than a vague call for re-distribution of wealth . As if this is something new , that we have never heard over and over again in the past. SOYMB doesn't expect the re-organisation of poverty .Socialism will not be about equal sharing. Nor do socialists advocate equal wages . People are different and have different needs. Socialism will be a society in which satisfying an individual's self interest is the result of satisfying everyone's needs. It is enlightened self-interest that will work for the majority. Socialism isn't based upon altruism.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

A while to do that,and no conclusion.