The great thieving empire

I appreciate the many thoughtful responses to my quirky first post regarding reading Zerzan prior to going shopping at a big box store, especially skepoet2’s post. There is a lot to chew on there, and rather than spiral into back and forth contretemps, I thought I would try to clarify a little more what I meant in the initial post, and perhaps show my own hand concerning my opinions if they have not been sufficiently articulated.

First of all, some of my points concerning the division of labor should have highlighted better the problem at the international level, rather than just hypothetical questions as to who takes out the garbage. I think, for example, of Bolivian president Evo Morales’s overly simplified but still rather intriguing description of the causes of the economic crisis in the “developed world”:

There’s a crisis in the United States, there is a crisis in some countries of Europe. What conclusion do I reach: since they are not robbing us, since they are not looting us, there is crisis in the capitalist European countries, and we are lifting ourselves up… Now that they can’t steal, they are having an economic and fiscal crisis.
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The Egalitarian Rejoinder

Derick writes: “The conservative retort that “if we are all equal at the lowest common denominator, then our future is blend indeed” is fundamentally true.  The dangerous of this focus on equality for equality’s sake even in equality of substance is subtle but acute in its problem: problems of substantive equality are problems of distribution, but if these problems of distribution are fixed by a structural economic process that is dependent on classes of people doing  particular kinds of production, so then we are still left with a fundamental contradiction.”

I reject “bland” or wooden equality, but still we don’t have a better word to characterize the difference between our current social and economic orders and the Communist future we are fighting towards. The distribution of wealth in the world today is grotesquely unequal. Simply reducing that maldistribution would do wonders. How we get there is not easy or obvious, but that we get closer to such substantive equality seems the inescapable consequence of forging a “classless society.”

Human needs do not vary infinitely; we all need a scientifically measurable nutritional intake, a decent place to live, reliable transportation, quality medical care, and a shorter workweek. Nobody needs caviar, a mansion, a Rolls Royce, multiple cosmetic surgeries, or to be able to live off their inheritance. At the opposite end, nobody should be forced to live off of Dickensian gruel, in a rotting shack, chained to one spot, exposed to unsanitary conditions, or forced into constant overtime labor. Between the extremes of opulence and destitution, there is a zone of basically reasonable ordinary needs.

Maybe someday, after the Singularity, we might be able to give everyone free body modification surgeries on a whim, but that day is so far from today it has minimal political implications. The scary blandness of equality is also just that, a boogie-man that doesn’t exist and probably never will. Someday, we might be unfrozen into a future world where everything is bland and sameness, but without poverty and oppression. I’ll take the boredom, please!!

The Egalitarian Principle

Recently, SkePoet posted a critique of Bhaskar Sunkara’s “Beyond Warm and Fuzzy Socialism.” He quotes from Marx’s “Critique of the Gotha Program,” a text that is often quoted these days as objecting to equality as a socialist value. SkePoet specifically takes aim at Sunkara’s invocation of the French Revolutionary slogan, “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.” He chides Sunkara for using the term “equal respect,” which he charges is “fundamentally liberal” not socialist.

So, on the point that “equal respect” or its cousin, “equal opportunity” are not in any sense socialist values, I concur. However, I have found myself increasingly uncomfortable with a sort of Marxist distancing itself from what I would call “substantive equality.” While making sure that people aren’t discriminated against when seeking employment is a fundamentally good thing, and a part of a socialist reform agenda that overlaps with liberalism, I can’t escape my conviction that when we propose a socialist revolution, we are proposing a leveling that radically alters the economic and political power differentials in society from those in the ruling classes to those in the working majority. The working classes become self-ruled in order to abolish class rule forever. To say this is not a process of equalizing wealth and power seems to deny the meaning of the word “equality.”

Yes, the liberal view of equality is formal and thin, and in any event always contested from the Right, who in our day are winning substantive roll-backs to gains in formal equality won in earlier struggles. We are seeing massive unemployment and incarceration of young black men in our day, that makes the celebrated gains of the 60s Civil Rights movement seem stunningly irrelevant. Only substantive egalitarian reforms, such as changing draconian criminal statutes, radical improvments to education, poverty relief, and economic leveling could make a dent in this deadly and tragic situation. Such reforms seem almost impossible within the current configuration of our political and  economic systems, so calls for radical change are the only route for advancement.

So, we do make common cause with liberals on formal equality, but radicals must push further and demand substantive equality against a world system of horrendous inequalities.