Leitmotif

Reason as the Leading Motive

The Class Distinction

Posted by Jerry on July 31, 2007

The crucial motivating ideology behind Socialism and Communism is the elimination of class conflict; the Communist ideology is fueled by the struggle of the lower class demanding emancipation from the supposed oppression of the higher classes. Indeed, the accusation is that Capitalist societies foster the most brutal class distinctions, whereas Communism promises an egalitarian utopia of just one big happy family.

I find it rather ironic, then, that the lines of class distinctions should be so pronounced in India–a highly socialist country for more than 50 years of its independent existence–than in the United States–a highly capitalist country for all of its independent existence.

Any Indian will agree that the manner in which we interact with our colleagues at work, for example, is vastly different from the manner in which we interact with our maids, manual laborers, store clerks, bus drivers, and just about anyone on the street. Even members belonging to the same group–like say all college students in one class–make highly conscious assessments of each other’s status in social strata and behave discriminatingly. 

Indeed, the irony is only heightened when I consider how the Indian socialist governments throughout our history has officially sanctioned class distinctions in its laws, quota, education, and reservation systems and in the government-owned railways (our trains have First Class and Second Class coaches, for the rich and the poor, respectively).

In contrast, consider the United States–where capitalism breeds men of great wealth and huge income gaps. Yet, in the United States, even the lowly waiter, the bartender, the plumber, the carpenter, the bus driver, or the maid servant are accorded the dignity of their labor and treated with respect and congeniality.

Then, consider the changing economy of India and the advent of capitalist market influences over the past decade or so. Today, when I enter a crowded shopping mall, I do not see a consumerist, materialist symbol of moral decadence; I see crowded shopping malls as the great Indian class equalizer–I see people from across the social strata shopping, eating, and socializing at the same place, seeing each other eye-to-eye as equal trading partners; I see young men and women working at the stores in these malls being accorded with some dignity and respect; I see class distinctions blurring and the dignity of labor taking over.

Then, what credibility does Socialism and Communism have when their most fundamental motive premise of is undercut and contradicted by the reality of their application? It’s a rhetorical question: the answer is obviously clear–Communism has never been an ideology consonant with reality and human nature; indeed, it blatantly admits that human nature has to be forcibly contorted to fit its collectivist/altruist ideology–and therein lies its evil.

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27 Responses to “The Class Distinction”

  1. satyajit said

    The efforts of the various Indian governments, as you put it, toward officially sanctioning class distinctions in its laws, quotas, etc have been, ironically enough, attempts to bridge class distinctions. While the means employed to actualize this end have been different in scope and nature, the end has essentially been the same—blurring of class distinctions. However, such means and the timing of the various laws, etc have been undertaken with a clear political objective—harnessing vote banks. The lower strata, minority communities (so many of them now that they constitute almost a majority), and caste groups have been led to believe with dubitable success that the government is there to appease their needs. In extreme cases, a demand has been created or brought into the public eye such that it could be met through specific governmental policies. For example, the move to reserve seats at elite institutions such as the IIMs is a political gimmick. However, the Education Ministry made it appear as if it was trying to provide “equal opportunities” (and thus dissolve class barriers) by reserving seats for undeserving candidates. While providing equal opportunities in the form of free primary education to all Indians is the job of the government, reserving seats for every damn community and creating new categories so as to form a requisite percentage is quintessentially Indian.

    The question of class distinction is not limited to just class. It is rooted in the constituents of the Indian populace. Our history and mythology is replete with class distinctions so much so that it has seeped into our way of life. May be discerning, modern-day Indians like the readers of this blog (give or take a few) can smell beyond the stench, but huge chunks of the Indian populace still are dangerously swayed by constructs called culture, religion, or belief that assumes tangible forms when it is tweaked (communal riots, class wars, or just the plain treatment of pariahs).

    Furthermore, going back, the specific example of our trains catering to First- and Second-class passengers again delineates the attempt to make trains affordable to the masses and the classes (such euphemisms are steeped in the Indian print media). The reasoning behind this is if you’ve a uniform fare for everyone, a huge portion of the financially challenged populace will not be able to afford train journeys. Now, trains are not an elitist means of transport. Using the drift of your post, they are in accordance with the objective of socialism.

    Hence, although various elements may appear to be distinctive on the grounds of class et al, they are actually mechanisms to eliminate, or at least bridge, class distinctions.

  2. Actually, it’s misleading to think in black and white socialism vs capitalism terms. For most of US history government measures that you might consider socialist helped the country’s infant industries to develop, opening up to free trade only once they’d caught up to/overtaken Europe. Indeed, the struggle for independence was as much about the escaping the influence of the European banking complex as the British crown, and America did not adopt European-style capitalism until the early 20th century – since when the rich/poor divide has been greatly exacerbated.

    India’s experiment with socialism is even more recent (and essentially over, as recent Congress and BJP govts have pursued fiercely neoliberal agendas); remember, until 1948 India was a colony, a subject nation, designed to impoverish itself. Throwing off the imperial legacy would have been hard enough alone, the older class- and communal- prejudices (and voting loyalties) greatly compounding the difficulty. It’s also worth comparing states within India, with Kerala having acheived some considerable success of reducing the class divide and bringing education etc to much of its people.

    It’s very superficial to see the shopping mall as a great class equaliser; only those with money to spend will shop there.

  3. Ergo said

    Satyajit,

    Yea, you point out the nitty-gritty of the ironic mechanism at work. You said: “although various elements may appear to be distinctive on the grounds of class et al, they are actually mechanisms to eliminate, or at least bridge, class distinctions.” And that is itself so laughable (if it weren’t so tragic, at the same time).

    All the socialist policies–heavy government regulation and interference–over the history of independent India intended to bridge the class distinctions have not been able to achieve that which liberalization brought about in little over a decade. Indeed, they have been a miserable failure–and yet we continue to demand that the government force “egalitarianism” upon us.

    Never before was a young man able to claim with some semblance of self-respect that he works as a server at a coffee shop or that he works at a flagship store in some mall.

    All that being said, my contention is that class distinctions are not bad inherently; I do not advocate for eliminating class distinctions or forcing economic egalitariansim. What I am opposed to is according such metaphysical importance to the notion of demographic class such that it becomes a crucial defining element of a man’s identity. This is collectivism at its root–similar to assuming the identity of race. Socialism and Communism does this grave error–it accords such metaphysical importance to the notion of class and makes it the defining element of human identity–indeed, the essence of social theory and historical conflict! Everything is explained in terms of class conflict–the bourgoise versus the proletariats; it engrains class as an element of identity and then arouses a self-righteous indignation against that identity. It’s a mess of contradictions.

  4. Not true, Ergo. Marxist theory describes how division of wealth defines people’s welfare and choices under capitalism; the whole point of socialism – whether you agree with it or not – is to nullify these divisions and to free ourselves from them.

    I’d also take issue with your assertion of the success of 10 years of neoliberalism. Many – especially the poorest – would disagree with you.

  5. Rambodoc said

    Dave On Fire,
    How do you define this ‘neoliberalism’?
    I don’t think recent governments have done anything spectacular in terms of freeing the economy. Yes, there has been some forward movement, but, equally, significant effort has been made to dig in deeper into collectivist minefields like reservations, government welfare schemes. Not ONE government has cried out or even whispered that State spending needs to come down, and that State control over economy is harmful. It is too much to expect a politician to put forth a moral defence of capitalism in India.
    As to the poorest disagreeing with the contention that the free market is good, it is because he has never seen, and probably will never see, one. The corruption of the control Raj squashes him under its wheels, and the lack of prosperity that controls have created kills him effectively.

  6. Corruption is obviously a problem, but privatisation is a fantastic opportunity for the corrupt to appropriate public resources, then sell them for private gain.
    Neoliberalism is the trend, starting mainly from Reagan and Thatcher but now imposed, with the the help of the IMF and World Bank, over most of the world, to dismantle all public services and any state activities that might interfere with the free market. Clearly, you think that’s good, but it’s not hard to see the problem (Satyajit has already pointed it out).
    Capitalism does not treat all men as being equal, but it does treat all dollars as being equal; the market responds to wealth, not greed, and privatising water (for example) means that the rich can buy up water for fountains and baths and all while the poor die of thirst. The liberalisation of India has caused much suffering in this way, whereas nations and states that guarantee water, healthcare, education etc to their citizens tend to do better.

  7. Ergo said

    Dave on fire,

    You are missing the motivating premise of Marxist theory: his whole interpretation of history is along the lines of class conflict: after identifying the first stage of historical materialism as primitive hunter-gatherers who had no concept of private property, his very next stage, the second stage of historical materialsm, introduces the notion of class, and ergo, of conflict; indeed, his second stage is termed “slave society.” Thereafter, it’s a laundry list of the travails of humankind viewed from the perspective of class identity.

    Thus, it would hardly be Marxism–or any of its variants–if you reduce and remove the significance of the notion of “class identity” and “class struggle” from it.

    Finally, I agree with you that the point of socialism is to nullify the divisions of class, which is what I stated even in my post; but the irony is the results it brought about! The problem lies at the philosophical root: if man is not an individual but only an undifferentiated unit of a collective class and his own significance and identity is shadowed by the “class” to which he belongs, how then can you eliminate the existence of class distinctions? To do so would to eliminate the very identity of men who identify to their class and have no real identity outside of it.

    It’s like forcing a black man to renounce his “blackness” all of a sudden when all his life he was drilled into accepting that his core identity was his race–i.e., black.

    My contention is that class distinctions should not be forcibly eliminated. All I say is, there is no need to accord to them any more significance than what is already a fact of the matter, and government’s have no business labelling you a “Second Class traveler” or a member of “Other Backward Castes/Classes.”

    If you’re poor, you’re poor. If you’re black, you’re black. If you’re rich, you’re rich. These in and of themselves are hardly the defining elements of human identity–and certainly not of the entire history of human existence. In fact, I’d go further and say, these are not even moral issues as such.

  8. I agree that any interpretation of socialism that treats class difference as existential is both irrational and dangerous. Again, though, that’s not the point of Marxism, which looks at the class distinctions within capitalism, and sees how to bring them to an end. Saying that capitalism treats the poor differently to the rich is no different than saying that apartheid treats black people differently to white people; it is a factual analysis of a system rather than an assertation of real existential classes of people.
    Your argument seems to rest on the assumption that if we do not talk about a difference between the rich and the poor, such a difference does not exist. That’s patently absurd; some people can afford to take six holidays a year, other people starve to death. Ignoring this gap entrenches the division, trying to close it is far more egalitarian.

  9. Ergo said

    “some people can afford to take six holidays a year, other people starve to death. Ignoring this gap entrenches the division, trying to close it is far more egalitarian.”

    But Dave, I actually reject egalitarianism–it is both metaphysically impossible and ethically immoral.

    And no, my argument is not that if we don’t talk about the difference, the difference does not exist. My argument is, the difference exists, you can contemplate it if you choose to, but don’t make the difference between the rich and the poor the crux of your moral theory, the defining element of your identity, or bridging the gap the purpose of your government.

  10. See, that’s what I was talking about when I said it’s not black-and-white. Class consciousness as “the crux of your moral theory, the defining element of your identity” is perhaps pretty absurd. Ignoring it is also pretty indefensible. How about as “a tool for understanding the mechanisms of capitalism” or as “a movement for political change”? You’ve erected a straw man to knock down there.

    Although if you’re against egalitarianism, and therefore presumably in favour of division and inequality, then we are starting from contradictory axioms and thus can’t agree no matter how much logic is applied.

  11. Ergo said

    It seems disingenuous to argue that class distinction is not a defining element of socialist and communist theories–particularly when the rallying cry of the communist call to action is the famous “Workers of the world, unite!” Was Marx referring to bourgoise workers?

    I haven’t created a strawman to be attacked; but I notice that there is some obfuscation in the evasive attempts of your words. When you say “tool for understanding the mechanisms of capitalism” and a “movement for political change,” what are you referring to if not “class” as the “tool” and classism as the “movement”? In other words, your tool and method, both, use the lens of class distinctions. Hence, if I call out this fact that “class” is such a defining element of your perspective, have I erected a strawman or have merely brought out your implicit motive premises up to explicit terms?

  12. Yes, class identity is a defining feature of Marxist theory – an attempt to understand the workings of capitalism. Likewise, racial identity would have to be a defining feature of any attempt to understand the workings of apartheid. Yes, looking at class is useful in understanding capitalism, and when that system oppresses a certain class it seems logical for members of that class to unite against it.

    It doesn’t make it a fundamental part of one’s being. That someone is a “worker” or a “bourgeois” is a functional description of the place allotted to them in capitalist society.

    As I understand it, your problem seems to be that viewing the world in one set of terms makes a completely excludes any other terms. Why should that be? Money is a preponderant force in determining one’s welfare and freedoms in capitalist society, so it’s very useful to look at society in terms of who has and controls the money; that doesn’t mean suppressing every other aspect of one’s identity and ignoring all other models of social interaction.

    To take another example, look at feminism. Women have, in one way or another, been oppressed by men for most of history, and virtually all reversals of this have come about through political movements led by women, identifying themselves primarily as women within that movement. That doesn’t make them blinkered bigots obsessed with gender; their politicisation along gender lines is a direct result of their being discriminated against along sexual lines.

    So it goes with what you call “classism”. People discriminated against along economic lines have every reason to identify themselves along economic lines and to unite and struggle along those lines. The same goes with racial groupings under apartheid. But when those movements succeed in overthrowing the systems that created them, the racial/class/gender divisions disappear/become irrelevant.

  13. Rambodoc said

    Dave On Fire,
    If I understand you right, you are clubbing feminism, Marxism, capitalism and apartheid under one banner. I think you are missing a fundamental element distinguishing capitalism from the rest: while all the other systems involve some form of oppression or violation of rights, capitalism does not. Precisely the opposite: the market does not entertain ‘special interest’ minority groups clamoring for special rights.

  14. Capitalism is a system whereby a person’s rights, freedoms and welfare are a function of the money he or she has. By definition, then, it discriminates against those who do not have money.

  15. Ergo said

    Dave,

    After first denying the significance of “class” in marxist moral theory and in the identity thrust upon people by the Socialist system, your latest comment concedes that “Yes, class identity is a defining feature of Marxist theory” and that “People discriminated against along economic lines have every reason to identify themselves along economic lines and to unite and struggle along those lines.”

    Okay, so now that you have conceded my point that class is elevated to such metaphysical importance in your perspectives, let’s turn to the defining element of capitalism. Here, I will point out that *you* have erected a capitalist strawman; and no, don’t expect me to ever concede to your point or change mine in any future comment I might make.

    Unlike the theories you subscribe to and in contrast to your “definition” of capitalism, Capitalism is an economic system of which the defining element is *not* money but individual freedom. In the capitalist society, the *amount* of money you have is not as significant or relevant as your *free ability* to earn it, possess it, trade it, and dispose of it as you wish and please. The defining element of Capitalism, therefore, is freedom–to act, earn, keep, and trade without government interference or outside force.

    The principle actors in a capitalist system are not groups of workers or classes but individuals and private independent entities that make up the market. Of course, given that Capitalism means freedom, groups of people are free to unite and identify under whatsoever ideological banner they choose to–be it feminism, unions, etc. However, Capitalism forbids them the use of force and violation of individual rights.

    Just for the record, I am also against feminism, multiculturalism, environmentalism, and the gay rights agenda (full disclosure: I am also gay in addition to other things).

    P.S: You might want to read this post to get a sense of the dynamic transaction frameworks in a free market system that is defined not by how money is involved but how much freedom the individuals have in being able to participate in the transaction.

  16. Perhaps if you were to explain exactly what “metaphysical importance” means, we might be able to stop going around in circles. I conceded that class identity was a defining part of Marxist theory, but I really don’t understand how that makes it the preponderant excluding-all-else divisive obsession you seem to be accusing it of. Do you realise there’s a difference between “theory” and “religion”?

    Your description of capitalism is incredibly naive, and I’d challenge you to look at from the point of view of someone who had no opportunities to earn, possess and trade. There are those who can take six holidays a year, and there are those who cannot afford to feed themselves properly; you can rationalise that away with the myth of meritocracy or whatever, just as apartheid was rationalised with the pseudotheory of eugenics, but don’t be surprised if those who lose out take a different view.

    In any case, we’re at risk of getting into a debate about the accuracy of Marxist theory, which is somewhat different to the original bone of contention. I am claiming Marxist theory is a reaction to and attempted explanation of real divisions and discriminations and you, I think, are accusing it of being a “metaphysical” and arbitrary system of discrimination unto itself. I guess you’re saying that it’s fundamentally wrong for people to identify themselves as belonging to a certain group, even if that group is defined by external pressures beyond their control.

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  18. Ergo said

    Dave, you cannot compare meritocracy, poverty, or the lack of food with apartheid, race, and eugenics. That is an invalid argument from analogy. Merit, food, poverty, etc. are not metaphysically given, they are man-made. Race and physiological characterists are metaphysically given, not man-made.

    I have a strong feeling that you don’t understand the meaning of the concept “metaphysical.”

    “Metaphysically important” means ascribing any some thing the quality of being so important that it defines the nature of being and one’s view of existence. For example, when I make the statement “man is a rational being,” I have ascribed metaphysical importance to the concept of rationality–my view of man is defined by the concept of rationality. That is *not* to say that all men act rationally. That is also *not* to say that men are not other things like social beings, mammals, bipedals, etc.

    The rest of your comment is simply emotionalism devoid of all reason. I cannot have any fruitful discussion with you so long as you deny that everyone who has earned their money has the full right to hold on it and do with it as they please without any guilt.

    The right to property (capital, assets, money) is the only right that makes all other rights (including the right to life) possible. If you deny the right to property to any man–even if he is an incredibly rich man–in favor of your emotionalist prejudice toward the poor, you have denied him the right to life because the right to property makes the right to life practiceable. Read this post for an exposition of the logical chain.

    Those who can have holidays for 50 days a year have no moral or legal obligation to feed those who cannot afford food. And this, I am saying after having lived major chunks of my life on only meals of 12 cents Ramen noodles and cereal.

    My need is not a moral demand on your wealth. If need was the defining element of “rights”, then any man’s need becomes another man’s obligation to fulfill the need. We are not slaves to each other and neither are we sacrificial animals to one another. Anyone who talks of sacrifices necessarily talks of someone reaping the benefits of the sacrifice; he talks of slaves and masters, of butchers and the slaughtered.

  19. Thank you for clarifying what you meant by “metaphysical importance”, it’s pretty much as I thought. I’m still confused as to the leap between using a distinction within a theoretical framework in order to understand a system, and “ascribing any some thing the quality of being so important that it defines the nature of being and one’s view of existence”.
    If I try to understand planetary interactions through the use of gravitational theory, does that mean that I have attached immense importance to a planet’s mass, using it as the single and unique defining aspect of that planet? Of course not, I have simply used mass as the defining element of the planet within the system of gravitational interaction. Were I to consider a different problem involving planets, I might view them completely differently. Using class distinctions to model economic interaction is not “classist” any more than considering planets as point masses to model gravitational interaction is “massist”.

    You then go on to counter-moralise, when in fact I hadn’t invoked moral obligations in the first place. You may consider the right to property to be fundamentally important, just as others once thought that a King’s divine right to rule was fundamental; that’s the kind of morality required to maintain the system. But I don’t see the need to bring something as subjective as morality into it; surely it is in the interest of those who are in similar circumstances and have similar needs to unite. Hence feminism as a reaction to sexism, African nationalism as a reaction to apartheid/racism, class consciousness as a reaction to class oppression. Pointing that out isn’t “emotionalism”, it’s cold rationalism.

    One more thing:

    Merit, food, poverty, etc. are not metaphysically given, they are man-made. Race and physiological characterists are metaphysically given, not man-made.

    You couldn’t be more wrong. Race is created by the racist. The only scientific theories dividing humanity into distinct physiological groupings have been long discredited, and you will struggle to find a respected modern anthropologist talking in terms of race – genetic and culture trends and “clines” are much more realistic. The White, Black, Coloured and Indian races existed in apartheid South Africa because the arbitrary man-made laws made it so, not because they were really from seperate physiological classes.

  20. Ergo said

    Dave, you don’t understand my use of the terms “metaphysically given” and “man-made.” I’ve never heard something so strange as “race is created by the racist!” :) Makes me smile, actually.

    Oh, and morality is “subjective”? :) The right to property is compared to the divine right of kings?? :) We are not even talking in the same ideological paradigm here! None of our concepts discussed here are referents of the same thing, nor are they being used similarly. I almost wish to echo Wittgenstein’s language games here as an explanation.

    This discussion is pointless until we define all our concepts clearly to understand each other, since we are coming from entirely different ideological paradigms. I don’t intend to do that (define everything) in this comment because my entire blog is at your disposal to get a sense of how I use concepts and what they mean.

    Let me end by saying this: racial *constructs* have been designated by men; but the physiological *differences* among people of different races is a metaphysically given fact. Your multiculturalism (and that of many scientists today) blinds you to a simple fact: You don’t need studies to observe that something in the genes of an African makes him have black skin and something in the *genes* of Caucasians make them have white skin. “White” and “Black” are racial contructs, i.e., man-made. The “black-skin” gene and the “white-skin” gene is metaphysically given. Discrimination on the base of these genetic differences corresponding to racial constructs is called racism. Getting back to your earlier comment, it is a logical fallacy to compare the metaphysically given with the man-made.

  21. “White” and “Black” are racial contructs, i.e., man-made. The “black-skin” gene and the “white-skin” gene is metaphysically given.

    Ok. And which one was apartheid all about then? If you prefer the term “race-construct” then fine: race-construct is created by the racist.
    Clearly you and I don’t share the same idea of morality, which is why I tried to move the discussion back to the rational. You still haven’t explained the link between using a distinction within a theoretical framework in order to understand a system, and “ascribing any some thing the quality of being so important that it defines the nature of being and one’s view of existence”; considering the two as equivalent was, as I understand it, your basis for outright rejection of the very concept of class consciousness.
    Still, from the tone of your last comments it’s clear that you’re getting frustrated and don’t wish to address the actual points being discussed, so I’ll leave you in peace. So long and thanks for all the smileys.

  22. Jason said

    Okay, I know you guys are arguing things that I don’t have the time to digest at the moment, but I must comment on Dave on Fire’s comment: “Capitalism is a system whereby a person’s rights, freedoms and welfare are a function of the money he or she has. By definition, then, it discriminates against those who do not have money.”

    It’s the capitalism that allows us all to go out and MAKE more money if we so desire. What the system “discriminates against,” if it can actually said to be discriminating against anything, is the lazy man, the slothful man, the man who wishes not to work. It rewards those who put in the effort. Some, though, are quite content to live on the streets and starve, just so they can claim a victimization of some kind…

    Even though McDonald’s is still hiring.

    There may be some “special circumstances” in which someone may actually be unable to work (ie, disabilities of some type), but again, the free market system in the U.S. has programs and help in place for the less fortunate who are actually less fortunate. Hell, we even have programs to help the lazy and slothful! But it seems to me that to say “Capitalism” in some way discriminates against those who have no money represents a misunderstanding of how the free market works–and that’s with a lot of over-regulation by the U.S. governemnt!

    And just because a man may earn enough to “buy all the water which allows others to starve” doesn’t mean he will–in fact, our free market has made many of us more than willing to part with our monetary wealth in ways to better those whom we deem “less fortunate.” And while there may be a few who try to “monopolize” one thing or another, that is where individual liberties and freedoms make their presence known. A man is only as free as the boundaries and freedoms of others, after all…

    Perhaps I’m missing a grander point… I’ve been known to. But I hope that in some way points out the misunderstandings you seem to have about capitalism.

  23. Ergo said

    Jason,

    So good to “see” you here! :) It’s been a while, no? Are you still giving the fundies a hard time? :) Thanks for your comment, it makes perfect sense to me.

    Dave,
    The point Jason is essentially making is the same as mine: in capitalism, it doesn’t matter if you have 2 dollars or 50 billion. The point of capitalism is to leave you completely free to do what you can with your 2 dollars–invest it to make 5 dollars, trade it for beer, or dig a hole in the ground and hide it. In other words, the essence of capitalism is not money but freedom to engage in economic activities.

    You might find this as a surprising notion, but in the free market, irrationality with your values is punished swiftly and organically by the free market system itself. A man who is cavalier with his money will not be able to hold on to his wealth for too long, or fall back on a government-guaranteed safety net, because it won’t exist in a free market system. A man who is irrationally behaving in the market–for example, charging high prices for bad products–will not survive too long in the market, provided the market is free and the government does not step in to interfere and “save” drowning businesses.

    The essence of the market is freedom, and the motive power of the market is rationality.

    Finally, yes, I am unable to address your points because I don’t even understand them. As I said, you’re not using concepts the way I do. Just to point out an example of what I mean when I say I don’t understand you, you said, “Clearly you and I don’t share the same idea of morality, which is why I tried to move the discussion back to the rational.”

    Now, are you saying that discussions of morality are not “rational”? Are they irrational? So are issues of morality outside the realm of reason?? So does man have a different, non-rational faculty that is used in discussions of morality?? Is there another competent means of acquiring knowledge about moral issues besides our faculty of reason?

    And more fundamentally, you *really* think that the issues we have been discussing so far–like capitalism, class distinctions, identity, communist moral theory, etc.–are *not* related to explicitly *moral* issues??

    See what I mean? I don’t understand how you don’t discuss moral issues in order to be make the discussion purely “rational.” I don’t understand how you sever the issues we have been talking about from the realm of morality. I don’t know what cognitive faculty you intend to use to discuss moral issues if not your faculty of reason. I don’t understand your use of the concepts “morality” and “rationality,” only to name two.

    I do understand *why* you have such confused terminologies, but I don’t understand the meaning you ascribe to the terms.

  24. in capitalism, it doesn’t matter if you have 2 dollars or 50 billion

    Well, it kind of does though. If you don’t even have enough to feed yourself, you’re certainly unlikely to be launching any groundbreaking profitable start-up enterprise. The characterisation of the poor as sloths deserving of their misery is intellectually very lazy. Someone with a good education, good contacts, time and energy left over from fighting for survival, and money to invest will obviously tend to do better than someone faced with the choice between starving to death or working 36-hour shifts at a Nike sweatshop and making half a living wage. The myth of a meritocracy is nice in theory, but it doesn’t apply in the real world.
    Now, a person’s moral judgements on a specific issue may be derived rationally from their general principles, but their moral axioms are essentially arbitrary. I think that greatly indulging myself while my neighbour starves to death is wrong, you do not – either point of view could be part of a rational belief system, but derived from different axioms. No amount of logical discussion can reconcile the two. There are more productive avenues for rational discussion.
    As for the market depriving the poor: it happens. People are starving to death, while enough food is produced globally that no-one should have to. The rich can pay more for their luxuries than the poor can for their necessities, so the market must work towards satisfying the former rather than the latter. It happens.

  25. Jason said

    Hey Ergo, yeah, it’s been a long time from your comment boards, but I’m usually here reading regardless… :D

    And it just wouldn’t be the same if I wasn’t busting the fundies, now would it? LOL!

    Now, dear Dave, as to your “The characterisation of the poor as sloths deserving of their misery is intellectually very lazy.” I would agree that in most countries around the world, the poor do not have the opportunities that the system the U.S. has set up, and indeed, many of them do not have the power or the resources to better their lives. But speaking within the U.S. alone, there are huge numbers of social programs, private institutions, and any other number of “helps” that the poor can utilize to make their lives better! Some do not use these systems vecasue they do not know about them, and others are just plain lazy. A college education, a chance for a better job, an opportunity to make more money are everywhere here–and while many people have their reasons for being downtrodden or whatever, some people take their reasons and make them excuses. That’s just a fact.

    Speaking globally is a whole other ball game, and yes, the system needs to be better managed and controlled, and people need to rise up and demand their basic rights–no one fights for someone who won’t fight for themselves. (Hello, Iraq!) Does that mean free markets are somehow at fault for rewarding those who work? Are people who earn their keep and pay their dues not even remotely entitled to having a jacuzzi in their bathroom, kitchen, deck, and patio?

    Even so, donations to organizations which help others in crisis or in need are at an al-time high! (See here.) Hell, even though I make a ton less than my father ever did (only barely above $28,000 a year USD), I still find some extra money to donate–which speaks volumes to what the free market has given me. I worked my way through college, bought my own cars, sought out jobs and even worked a few I was severly over-qualified for, all in the hopes and dreams of making my dreams come true–and it works. (Order now and get a free set of ginsu knives!)

    This is the reality of the free market system in America: It rewards those who take the initiative. Many a person has worked their way out of the “slums” and the “ghetto” to make a life for themselves, all due to the free market system…

    And while globally that system is not in place, but here in America? The only thing keeping the poor “poor” is their own expectations of themselves, and what they feel they are due.

  26. krishashok said

    Ergo,
    I agree with your point about Communism, but your examples in favour of capitalism seem a little weak. Indian railway coaches have first and second classes, as do American airlines have First, Business and Economy classes.

    And malls showcase egalitarianism? Really? For one, most Indians still treat shop employees like they treat their servant maids. And what’s more, malls and their security guards seem to highlight the division between the ones who can afford to shop there and the ones who cannot. Unlike a socialist wholesale government subji mandi, where anybody from a slum dweller to a merc-driving businessman shop for vegetables, I am sure the Mall security wallahs work extra to ensure that slum dwellers do not enter malls, if only to enjoy a bit of the air conditioning :)

    Ofcourse, this is not in support of socialism. the free market system is vastly superior to the failed Nehruvian socialism we have had for the last 50+ years, but, I just wanted to point out that the examples you quote don’t quite support your point.

    If I had to give an example – The privatization of telecommunications has done quite a bit to flatten class distinctions. Fishermen in Kerala now use mobile phones to figure out where the prices are higher instead of selling cheap to unscrupulous middlemen.

  27. Ergo said

    Krish,

    Perhaps you’re right in that my examples are weak–but of course, that’s a minor point of the post.

    Surprisingly, my post was inspired by the people I saw shopping at a nearby local mall; I mentioned this fact to my friend over dinner once: I noticed so many young girls shopping with their bank cards, empowered by the wealth they earn independently at call centers or wherever, girls who looked most certainly to be from poorer families, girls who now are becoming one of the (if not the only) sources of income–bread earners–in these poor families.

    I saw this one family of a mother, a younger boy child, and a girl who had shopped a nice cartful. At the counter, the girl took out her card to pay for all the goodies. I felt such a sense of happiness to watch this: they were clearly not a very “well-off” family; and I was happy to see that it was the young girl who paid as opposed to the adult mother or some man. And here we were, all of us having access to the same goods in the mall, shopping together, side-by-side, like equals. Our fancy cars safely parked away out of sight, here at the floor of the mall, it was just us and our money.

    Oh, and about American flights having first and second class–that is not relevant because they are private entities. Of course, businesses will discriminate according to whether you have money or not. And that’s a good thing for everybody concerned. But the case in India is *government-instituted* class discrimination. Where the publicly owned services and institutions officially create and endorse class divide. Where everyone is taxed for the public services and then discriminated upon at the supply stage. That is simply a logical consequence of Socialism–and an ironic one at that.

    You know, talking about airlines reminds me: during the “good” ol’ Socialist days when most things were owned by the people (read, government), we had only one domestic airline: the government owned Indian Airlines. And quite logically, hardly anyone could afford flying in those days; the only ones who flew government airlines were people of the government and their cronies. All of Indian Airlines was practically at the beck-n-call of politicians and their entourage. The great unwashed–who apparently are the people for whom Socialism is supposed to emancipate–never saw the inside of an airplane.

    And now, with the slowly opening markets, it is quite common to hear Indians in airports complain about how there’re just “too many bhaiyyas (a generic term for lower class men)” flying in private low-cost carriers that have only one common class seating. Yea, so private airlines are great examples of the Indian class equalizer–capitalism at work.

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