September 29, 2011

Dialogue 1: Marxist Estrangement

A short explanation before the post... There is an established history of public conversations. In the heyday of English literary work, authors would debate through newspaper editorials. Many correspondences are published posthumously. Now, my brother and I, living well after the newspaper, and not quite dead yet, would like to publish discussions. Not necessarily because we consider ourselves intelligent enough to listen to, but more likely because it is through discussion that two or more can come to a common understanding of the truth. Further, through discussion ideas are honed and sharpened, made more poignant and brought into better light. Meanings are clearer. And so, I present the first of, perhaps, many.


Ambrose: You
I have a question that I wanted to discuss with you

Sam Ignes: Umm...'kay.

Ambrose: Marx states that factory labor leads to four kinds of alienation in the worker: (1) alienation from the object, because he works on physical material which he doesn't own; (2) alienation from his human nature (or species being, as Marx terms it), because it is part of man's essential being to labor and shape the earth after his own image, while factory labor places man in service to his labor, working in order to subsist; (3) alienation from himself, because to separate him from physical belongings and his own nature is to separate him from himself, so that he loses what is human and lives to satisfy his animal functions; and (4) alienates him from other men, since this economic state of being places him in adversity (competition) with his fellow man, and especially his employer.
That was what we read - that's my condensation of an essay that Marx wrote
The question is, given that factory labor alienates man in the above way, describe an economic system which does not alienate the laborer.
Any thoughts?

Sam Ignes: ...capitalistic redistribution?

Ambrose: Flesh that out.
Define "capitalistic"

Sam Ignes: I'll do it using your bullet-points above, then, I guess.

Ambrose: Probably the best way.

Sam Ignes: Capitalism is an economic system fueled by the competitive nature of man, embodied in a constant rise in GDP and quality of service.
Redistribution is a means of eliminating homelessness and extreme poverty by providing welfare only to people who have no housing or job for a period of time until they can acquire aforementioned things.
Both are severely more complex than that, but those should satisfy as base definitions.

Ambrose: Ok

Sam Ignes: Okay, I'm gonna have to go out of order of your bullet-points for this to make sense.

Ambrose: That's fine
That's the order that Marx uses for his argument, but you can go out of order for yours.

Sam Ignes: 'Kay
(2) This system allows all men to work in a creative fashion because it creates constant need in every field of labor; the applied interest of men promotes their intuitive ability, thus shaping the world.
(3) The prevention of complete poverty and constant improvement of average quality of life allows man to be "in touch" the the physical and his belongings.
...I don't think you explained (1) in very full detail, since if whatever man works on causes him to be distanced from ALL objects, he's pretty much screwed.

Ambrose: it's not the fact that he's working on an object, it's that he's giving his labor, or his life - there are only so many hours in his life, and he's pouring those hours into an object which he cannot keep, control, or use. Monetary payment doesn't compensate, since he's missing his own life.
You can't buy back life.

Sam Ignes: Marx's first three points rely entirely upon Man's inability to acquire objects.
The fourth is brought about by man's good nature in prosperity.

Ambrose: Keep in mind, Sam, that Marx is talking about mid-1800's London, where there is no general prosperity. The working class lived in slums much worse than poor America. Every member of a household worked at least 12 hours a day in the most unsafe environment for pay which was barely enough to feed them.
Labor is still like this - sweat shops in Southeast Asia come to mind.

Sam Ignes: So?
I wasn't told to make Southeast Asia into a haven in a day.
I was told to describe an economic system.
Moral standards should be applied to personal experience, not vice-versa.

Ambrose: Well, keep in mind that in a capitalistic system, where by definition (as given by Adam Smith), the motivation for increasing the general wealth of society is personal gain, the most profit is made by paying the factory workers least; it will always be, if not standard policy, at least moral temptation to pay workers just enough to keep them alive.

Sam Ignes: Ingenuity promotes automation.

Ambrose: I know, it's a moral problem, but moral problems exist. We're not talking about an ideal society that exists on paper, we're talking about an actual society.
Do you mean that automation will eventually take the place of human workers?

Sam Ignes: On paper, yes.
...oh, wait, in real life, too.

Ambrose: ah
Are you saying that we have replaced manual labor with automation?

Sam Ignes: Yup.

Ambrose: Sam.
We live in a global economy.
Sweatshops in Asia and south America, which produce a large mass of our goods, are part of our economy.
Those sweatshops consist of people working for less than 10% of American minimum wage, in extremely unsafe conditions.
Automation has not replaced manual labor.

Sam Ignes: I didn't say it has.
I said it would.
Sorry, my communication failure. :P

Ambrose: Ok

Sam Ignes: Basically, Marx makes the case in a nutshell that "labor" reduces humanity in some way.
As a solution to the problem he himself creates, one must eliminate labor.
So, on paper, I did. :D
Shit just got reeeeeeeal.

Ambrose: No, he makes the case that working for a pitiful wage in bad conditions (which scenario is created by a capitalist economy) alienates man from those four things.
It doesn't completely take them away, it just alienates them.

Sam Ignes: Okay.
I didn't say the world IS the way I described.
I was painting an economic system that would solve the problem presented.
Mind you, I didn't provide a step-by-step on how any part of our global economy could get there; for that, I'd have to get more personal.

Ambrose: Right, I don't need a step-by-step plan, I just want a description of a system.

Sam Ignes: Yyyyyup.

Ambrose: But I think you're missing a bit of what Marx is saying, which is possibly due to my bad explanation
It's not the work itself which alienates man from himself, his nature, the object, and other men
It's the conditions under which man works in a capitalist, factory society.

Ambrose: Pivotal things about that condition which lead to that separation: he labors on that which is not his, he is living in abject poverty, and he is forced to work in order to sustain his physical existence.
So, instead of creating out of his own energy under his own directive, he is forced to use his creative faculty in a non-creative manner.
No match-stick factory worker takes pride in his work. "He's lighting that cigarette with one of my company's matches! I take pride in that!" No factory worker would ever think, say, or believe that.

Sam Ignes: And the way I boiled that down in order to change it was to say that the workers had to adapt the economy, and so I made the economy in such a way that it adapted to the workers.
Man can become interested in his work by creating a need for it and the means to achieve it.

Ambrose: Just because it fills an economic need in society does not mean that it fills a need in man's core being.

Sam Ignes: But Marx demands that man's core being is downtrodden by the economy because of the position it places men in.

Ambrose: right.
that is what Marx says.
Let me illustrate it with an example.
Picture your training and bike racing. It's work - you put in your hours intending to reap a benefit in your racing. When you win a race, you have a sense of fulfillment and joy, right? (along with the adrenaline rush)

Sam Ignes: And podium girls, yeah.

Ambrose: You don't get podium girls. You're not that good.
Alright. Suppose you took those same training hours, and instead of working toward your own end in your bike racing career, you powered a generator in a factory for minimum wage. No racing, no podium girls, just $7.45 an hour. Even if that filled a societal need, and you got paid enough to support yourself, it wouldn't be that same exhilarating feeling, would it?
That's the difference between alienating and non-alienating labor, which I think Marx is trying to point out.
It may not be the best example, but it shows what I mean.

Sam Ignes: So, man must be fulfilled by his work in order to not be alienated?

Ambrose: Basically.
That's what I posit, anyway.
It's kind of a mash between the Platonic idea that every man naturally wants to do a certain kind of work (the sword smith is born to be a sword smith, the farmer born to be a farmer, etc.) and a Chestertonian distributist idea, where each man is financially independent, and large corporations don't exist.

Sam Ignes: There's nothing wrong with large corporations.
There is something wrong with oppressive corporations.

Ambrose: Well, let me explain a bit here.

Sam Ignes: Please do! <3

Ambrose: Large corporations originate in the division of labor (division of labor = instead of one man making one thing, 10 men each make one part of that one thing in an assembly line). Dividing labor allows them to produce more quickly, and thus gain an excess - more than what society around them needs. They can thus sell for profit.
That's how capitalism originated back in the 1700s.
In order to have those 10 people (or 1000s of people, depending on the company), you need a large workforce of people whose only job is to do that one tiny piece of making the whole product.
This is only possible in a large corporation - a single-employee small business _by definition_ cannot divide labor, because he simply doesn't have enough men.

Sam Ignes: However, a single-person business cannot apply a service to a large population.
e.g. phone service.

Ambrose: Interesting argument.

Sam Ignes: Hold up a sec

Ambrose: But phone service is something that a government could - and possibly should - handle very well.

Sam Ignes: What I mean to put forth is that dividing labor (government is labor, too) is not necessarily bad; if research and development is labor, and labor shouldn't be divided, then there wouldn't be much R&D getting done.

Ambrose: Research (actually scientific work being done by scientists) is not necessarily unfulfilling, like Marx would posit that factory work is.
Sam Ignes: But you're using "labor" synonymously with "factory work."

Ambrose: Yeah. Research isn't "labor," it's qualitatively different than tightening the same screw on each product that rolls past on a conveyor belt for 12 hours.

Sam Ignes: Then how do you eliminate the need for jobs such as tightening the same nut and bolt 8 hours a day?

Ambrose: By denying that it's a need.
It's only a "need" in a society where the final end is material gain - you have to make a surplus, in order to sell enough to make a profit.

Sam Ignes: So, how do you change the "end" of society from material gain?

Ambrose: Remember, this isn't a step-by-step plan, it's a description of a society.
Suppose you had a society where people lived in groups or villages, not gigantic super-urban cities with millions of people.
Those people could support themselves materially - they could grown their own food, built their own tools, organize themselves in their own affairs...
Granted, they would not have material excess.
But you don't need to have material excess - that's why it's called excess or surplus.
The important thing is that each person could build and work on his own things, selling them or keeping them as he saw fit.

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