Friday, December 23, 2016

Pointless Reminder I Exist

Hey everyone.  Sorry I've been out of commission for a while; mostly due-to preoccupation with school and work.  I have some stuff I'll likely be posting in the next week or two.  I finally have time to read and do some writing.  But I also want to play Xbox and see people over break.

Anyway, just another pointless update.  I would put more effort into this post but what effort I would put into this I should be putting into my essay(s) so instead I'll put effort into neither for now and play Sonic before sleeping and maybe writing if the stars align for it.

Take care.  And happy Secular Holiday Celebration.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

To What Extent Does Life Imitate Art?

The revolution is a dictatorship of the exploited against the exploiters.

Fidel Castro

I never saw a contradiction between the ideas that sustain me and the ideas of that symbol, of that extraordinary figure, Jesus Christ.

Fidel Castro

An absolutely new idea is one of the rarest things known to man.

Thomas More

“For if you suffer your people to be ill-educated, and their manners to be corrupted from their infancy, and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education disposed them, what else is to be concluded from this, but that you first make thieves and then punish them.”
Thomas MoreUtopia

The main interest of this paper is to examine Utopian literature to see if the seeming paradoxes and subtleties of radical politics in history can be properly fleshed out in literature, as well as to understand different understandings and uses of the word ‘utopian.’  For though art is typically an imitation of life, life can imitate art as well and there are some works of art that have achieved the goal of seeming more “real” than reality through encapsulating either something about people or about a society/political atmosphere perfectly – without all the unnecessary attributes that are inevitable out in the world with concrete particulars of people and places.

The first place to begin then is Thomas More’s Utopia.  Celebrating its 500th Anniversary,

A work of utopian literature that is one of the earliest Communist tracts written by a servant of Henry the VIIIth before he is executed by Henry for not converting from Catholicism to the at-the-time burgeoning Anglican faith.  In it, the character of Raphael is speaking to More about his travels, in the second book he goes into detail about the island of Utopia or No Place.  A perceived paradise that is both a criticism of European societies inability to live up to the perceived moral tenants and values of Christ and a proponent of what is the proper way to run a society. 

It is this layout that is the quintessential “Utopia” and highlights the main features of what it means for a society to be “Utopian.”  To dislike imperfection and multiplicity or differentiation of things.  To believe in moral idealism and to be incredibly harsh if not barbaric to achieve moral perfection, as well as the idea that Man can be perfected in this life.

Despite the lack of Catholicism or traditional religions in most Communist States there is a type of fervor within revolutionary movements and States that take on a religious dimension.  It is this moral zeal towards positive liberty and order which is the antithesis of Liberalism which has become even more so than Christianity (for Christianity has so many differing denominations and has declined in the West while Classical Liberalism, particularly a faith in privatization and Neo-Liberal economics has grown) the ideology of the West.  This Thomas More saw in Monarchism but would apply it likely to Republicanism or Classical Liberalism.

Since we are comparing the coiner of the word Utopia to Marxist theories and attempts to create it, it behooves us to analyze what Marx and Engels thought of Utopianism in their writings.  Bertell Ollman puts it rather well in bullet-point form[1].  For Marx Utopianism is akin to lack of comprehension of the “is-ought” distinction laid out by Hume.  Assuming Utopia or what the Utopian Socialists (what Marx and Engels referred to in a sub-section of Socialists as they criticized Saint-Simon and Owen[2]) advocated is desirable arguing for it or speaking of its goodness does not necessarily manifest it into reality.  Especially giving the Materialist presumptions of Marx, one has to have knowledge of the particulars of what is to implement the ought, not knowledge of the ought alone to implement itself.  Gaining further knowledge of the particulars of the perfect healthcare system does little in itself to manipulate the political pre-existing system to implement it.  If this is true, then to the extent one implements the ought (regardless of whether or not one has discovered it through proper reasoning – one can do the right thing “by accident” that is) it is better to be a Frank Underwood than a Plato.

Though More’s is the work to originate the word Utopia and Utopian it is not the first work to manifest notions of an ideal world fundamentally different than this one.  Though religions often speak of an ideal world in a different plane of existence most have a tendency to be pessimistic about the possibilities of life in this one (Ollman[3]).  However, in the works of Plato there is the Republic, which Aristotle refers to as “Communism” (the first use of the word if memory serves).  And in Epicurus there is the notion of breaking free from the calamity of busy Athenian society (what closely approximates to “bourgeois” society in the ancient world) and finding peace pursuing natural pleasures and philosophy in the garden.

Now that a brief historical overview has been given, what can we see in the More’s work that will give raise to comparisons of attempted Utopias (using the colloquial, not the Marxist use of the word)?

The most apparent similarity and arguably the one that makes nearly every other one possible is the lack of private property in Utopia[4] and the USSR (before the NEP, and after its revocation by Stalin after Lenin’s death).  Though private property seems to mean something to More that it doesn’t to Marx (Communist Manifesto[5]).  For More it seems to connote to a lack of private ownership of small things in Utopia (Utopia pg. 64[6]) – for Marx the Means of Production that the Bourgeoisie use as means of profit while utilizing the exploited labor of the working class.  Though industry and a division of labor seen in Capitalist economics did not exist in the sixteenth century (essentially everything was individually made or made by small groups) More seems to would have advocated a communalization of industry if we are to infer this from his stances on agriculture (ibid p.50-1[7]). 

More seems to argue for his asceticism and communalization of ownership for two broad reasons – one religious, the other secular.  More seems to believe that a focus on gold and material things is both sinful and not in people’s nature but a manifestation of want and vanity[8] – a similar position of behaviorism being held in Marxism.  But asides from this he argues implicitly throughout of the merits of collective planning being done for the good of society rather than for the profits and prestige of business class and kings – if there is a better summation of the Socialist message I am unable to think of it.

Another example of similarities between More’s Utopia and the USSR which could have been inferred from previously given citation is the centralization of planning.  Though not all forms of Socialism (some forms of Anarchism for example) involve State or Central Planning both Utopia and the Soviet Union appear to (ibid p.50[9]).

Next to the communal ownership and management of things in society the largest similarity that we can look at when we are defining what is “utopian” is a paradoxical synthesis of moral idealism and barbarism.  Though More is very generous in a sense to his fictitious citizens, he is harsh to some with the existence of slavery in his perfect island State.  The slaves do the brute labor that More deems dehumanizing and unbecoming (ibid p. 61[10]) as well as other random tasks.  Slavery does not exist from ethnic classification/division in this society, but as a punishment for various offenses (ibid p. 64[11]).  This is comparable to the USSR where one could be punished to exile and hard labor in Siberia or other Authoritarian Communist States like North Korea where physically demanding labor in bleak conditions is a punishment for a host of crimes against the State.

Ignoring the harshness of slavery, another common trait one could see in the two is the potential for bureaucracy and a “soft authoritarianism.”  That is to say, without strict laws and harsh penalties, the very fact that one requires permission to use the things of common ownership of society or even to live one’s life as he or she wants and to do as one pleases is in direct contrast to our individualist notions of “live and let live” and not enforcing any notion of “the good” or normative values onto anyone save what directly violates another’s possibility to pursue their own happiness.  This is seen in Soviet policies of emigration and any travel abroad being forbade without explicit permission from the government. 

This “soft authoritarianism” also connotes a certain assumed reasonability and lack of prejudice among those who will be signing “privilege slips.”  This presumption of almost perfect wisdom amongst the rulers of this society is the antithesis of the Liberal Democracy (Constitutional Republic – whichever term is preferred) created by the American Founding Fathers, where there was an assumption of Man’s ignorance, baseness and ability to be corrupted by power and vanity.  This is why America’s Founders followed the writings of the political philosopher Montesquieu and created a separation of powers (three branches of government: legislative, judicial and executive).

When there is a surplus population in a town or grouping of towns, the extra Utopians go and form a new colony with the help of the native population who live in the area.  Very little detail is provided about these natives, but what is mentioned is that their agricultural incompetence is corrected in borderline miraculous ways by the management of the Utopians.  What they thought could not yield enough food for one group suddenly becomes enough bounty for two (ibid p.60[12]).  This could be seen as analogous to the Agricultural Collectivization under Stalin which was done in part to increase crop yields from what they were previously under individual peasant management.  In More’s Utopia there is little if any resistance from the Non-Utopians to the Utopian way of life.  However, in the USSR many Kulaks (the wealthier land owners) often killed their cattle or burned their crops rather see it be used collectively against their will.

In Utopia the food is distributed to all the communal dinner-areas proportionally after it has been given to the hospitals (presumably because the sick are in the most need for nutritious food) and the crème of the crop allocated to the Mayor and other legislators (ibid p.62[13]).  This preference to those who organize and legislate this supposedly classless society harkens to the hypocrisy seen in all religions and the Soviet Union.  In the center of Catholicism there is millions of dollars of wealth in art and architecture (among other resources) and the USSR’s leaders and politicians had the best living places and access to life’s luxuries despite the speak of common brotherhood, shared sacrifice and condemnation of the Bourgeois’ decadence and lack of concern for the suffering of the working class.

This could be seen as an indication of Egoism in our species that is innate rather than created through culture (Capitalist relations; Classical Liberal values and theories of human nature).  That is not to say that human beings are irrevocably selfish or selfish and nothing but (which is what Psychological Egoists maintain) but that humans are largely selfish and think of themselves and their families before the “brotherhood” of the human race (Aristotle’s main critique of Plato’s Republic).  This is not even necessarily an argument effectively saying Capitalism is superior to Communism – only that Communism can never be what it intends to be; a “pure” system where all selfishness and biases are purged from the human condition and everyone sees everyone as an equal deserver of attention to Utilitarian Calculation.

With both Christianity and Communism there is the idea that the sufferings of this material plane of existence come about through the “sinfulness” or lack of moral dealings in human beings.  There is also the notion that a perfect world can be achieved – in an otherworldly plane of existence for the Christian; on this Earth for the Communist.

Though they are expressed in different ways, and a Christian and Marxist may focus on different “sins” or moral-crimes, what they share is the view that the sufferings of this life manifest from the injustices and vice of this life.  With Christianity it is (depending on interpretation) the inherent sinfulness of Man and with Marxism it is the injustice of the Capitalist (or various other modes of relation which are unjust) system.

Both believe that human nature was originally good, was made sinful (the Fall of Man for the Christian; Marxists arguing the concept of inherent selfishness is a by-product of Neo-Liberal economics and profit-based incentives) and can be redeemed or corrected.  Through the correct social institutions for the Communist (ones that give proper education and opportunity for people – where they needn’t labor individually for their individual means of subsistence) and through death and being washed of sin and imperfection (and identity assumingly) in Heaven for the Christian.

There are however stark differences in certain areas.  In More’s Utopia gender roles are the conventional ones (ibid p.62[14]) the West and the world over (with a few exceptions) has seen as proper historically.  The men doing the more physically arduous tasks and the women doing the less laborious tasks of cooking and tending to the children.  Here More could be continuing the cultural traditions and verses of the Bible (I Corinthians 11:3[15].  I Corinthians 11:8-9[16]) or creating a society where gender relations reflect that of Aristotle (Politics 1259a41[17]) to use a secular example.

This is different than the USSR, for an early piece of propaganda used in the Soviet Union was stressing the equality of the genders in expectation and ability to perform the roles of society.  Women were not merely told they could be engineers, the main contention of gender egalitarianism in Bourgeois Liberal society which gives women the freedom to pursue whatever careers they please, they were told they should (V.I. Lenin[18]) do the tasks that men performed in greater numbers before for the benefit of society and to ensure gender equality.

Also for More there is stern punishment for sexual promiscuity (Utopia p.83[19]).  This type of attention to an individual’s sex life is not often so in Socialist Societies – there are examples of censorship of sexuality but this is not limited to societies that have a planned economy.  Also a quick note: it’s strange that More notes the absurdity of not providing people proper education and then punishing them for their poor behavior but does not see the ultimate absurdity of punishing a couple for sex outside of wedlock by in effect condemning them to eternal abstinence – for if sex is a crime then More is expecting them never to commit again what it is in every man and woman’s nature (far more so than theft and acts of violence) to commit.

There is a great more to examine in More’s Utopia, a particular point of interest being in examining the philosophical and religious beliefs of the Utopians – for despite their simple living they are depicted as far from simple minded and love little more than the pleasures of the mind (ibid p.59[20]).  However, such issues are not directly relevant to the task at hand so they will be postponed for further mining.

In conclusion, if I am allowed to give my preference of these lofty ideas of social structure I find the normative ideals and prescriptions of Communism (Communitarianism) to be on the whole more appealing than Liberalism (Individualism) but not without its flaws and failings.  Though these opposing sentiments and ideologies will often naturally reject any attempt to take parts of the one into the other I find this is what’s best for a healthy community that also values individual creativity and autonomy.  Whether this is a form of Communism that is more in some areas individual-orientated (essentially Social Anarchism) or a form of Liberalism that recognizes the importance of a safety net and collective funding for things used by all (Social Democracy) I think is on the whole irrelevant.  While one may be better than the other (I’ll leave that to the reader to decide) both seem to be better than the extremes of Neo-Liberalism and Authoritarian Communism. 

[1] From what Marx and Engels said on this subject, utopian thinking would appear to have the following characteristics:
1.        The vision of the future is constructed primarily—though not necessarily exclusively—out of hopes, wishes, and intuitions, whether envisioned by an individual or taken from the writings of other utopian thinkers, or some combination of the two.
2.        Constructed in this way and from such materials, this vision is externally related to whatever analysis one may have made of present conditions (each is viewed as logically independent of the other).
3.        But without any necessary connection between the two, there is no need for extensive analysis of the society in which one lives, and as a rule there is very little.
4.        Constructed from one’s hopes and wishes, and logically set off from one’s understanding of the present, the vision of the future generally precedes whatever social analysis is undertaken and occupies a central place in the thinking process.
5.        The future, so constructed, then serves as an independent standard for making evaluative judgments of whatever conditions and events come into one’s study of the present and the past.
6.        Finally, as a result of all the foregoing, there is a serious overestimation of the role that moral arguments rooted in this conception of the future play—and can play—in bringing about the desired reforms. Of all these interlinked characteristics, it is the first one that is decisive, since it engenders all the others.

[2] In the formation of their plans, they are conscious of caring chiefly for the interests of the working class, as being the most suffering class. Only from the point of view of being the most suffering class does the proletariat exist for them.
The undeveloped state of the class struggle, as well as their own surroundings, causes Socialists of this kind to consider themselves far superior to all class antagonisms. They want to improve the condition of every member of society, even that of the most favoured. Hence, they habitually appeal to society at large, without the distinction of class; nay, by preference, to the ruling class. For how can people, when once they understand their system, fail to see in it the best possible plan of the best possible state of society?
Hence, they reject all political, and especially all revolutionary action; they wish to attain their ends by peaceful means, necessarily doomed to failure, and by the force of example, to pave the way for the new social Gospel.

[3] Rome doesn’t seem to have produced any utopian literature, nor did Christendom—unless one counts Jesus’ tales in the New Testament—until the surge of peasant rebellions in the late Middle ages gave us a few religiously inspired visions of a heaven that people could enter before death.
[4] Each house has a front door leading into the street, and a back door into the garden.  In both cases they’re double swing-doors, which open at a touch, and close automatically behind you.  So anyone can go in and out – for there’s no such thing as private property.  The houses themselves are allocated by lot, and changed round every ten years.
[5] The bourgeoisie keeps more and more doing away with the scattered state of the population, of the means of production, and of property. It has agglomerated population, centralised the means of production, and has concentrated property in a few hands. The necessary consequence of this was political centralisation. Independent, or but loosely connected provinces, with separate interests, laws, governments, and systems of taxation, became lumped together into one nation, with one government, one code of laws, one national class-interest, one frontier, and one customs-tariff.
The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together. Subjection of Nature’s forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam-navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalisation of rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground — what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labour?
We see then: the means of production and of exchange, on whose foundation the bourgeoisie built itself up, were generated in feudal society. At a certain stage in the development of these means of production and of exchange, the conditions under which feudal society produced and exchanged, the feudal organisation of agriculture and manufacturing industry, in one word, the feudal relations of property became no longer compatible with the already developed productive forces; they became so many fetters. They had to be burst asunder; they were burst asunder.

[6] You needn’t any luggage, for wherever you go you’ll be equally at home, and able to get everything you want. If you stay in any place or more than twenty-four hours, you’ll be expected to carry on with your ordinary work.
[7] At regular intervals all over the countryside there are houses supplied with agricultural equipment, and town dwellers take it in turns to go and live in them.  Each house accommodates at least forty adults, plus two slaves who are permanently attached to it, and is run by a reliable, elderly married couple, under the supervision of a District Controller who’s responsible for thirty such houses. Each year twenty people from each house go back to town, having done two years in the country, and are replaced by twenty others.
[8] …he’s allowed to take away without any sort of payment, either in money or in kind.  After all, why shouldn’t he? There’s more than enough of everything to go around, so there’s no risk of his asking for more than he needs for why should anyone want to start hoarding, when he knows he’ll never have to go short of anything?  No living creature is naturally greedy, except from fear of want – or in the case of humans, from vanity, the notion that you’re better than other people if you can display more superfluous property than they can.  But there’s no scope for that sort of thing in Utopia.
[9] There are fifty-four splendid big towns on the island, all with the same language, laws, customs, and institutions.  They’re all built on the same plan, and, so far as the sites will allow, they all look exactly alike.
[10] The slaughtering of livestock and cleaning of carcasses are done by slaves.  They don’t let ordinary people get used to cutting up animals, because they think it tends to destroy one’s natural feeling of humanity.
[11] If you’re caught without a passport outside your own district, you’re brought home in disgrace, and severely punished as a deserter.  For the second offence the punishment is slavery.
[12] When this happens, natives and colonists soon combine to form a single community with a single way of life, to the great advantage of both parties – for, under Utopian management, land which used to be thought incapable of producing anything for one lot of people produces plenty for two.
[13] However, once the caterers for the hospital have got what the doctors have ordered, all the best food that’s left is divided equally among the dining-halls – that is, in proportion to the number registered to each – except that certain people receive preferential treatment, such as the Mayor, the Bishop, Bencheaters and diplomats.
[14] In the dining-halls all the rough and dirty work is done by slaves, but the business of preparing and cooking the food, and planning the menus, is left entirely to the women of the household on duty – for a different household is responsible for providing the meals every day.
[15] But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God."

[16] "For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man." 
[17] [T]he male, unless constituted in some respect contrary to nature, is by nature more expert at leading than the female, and the elder and complete than the younger and incomplete
[18] "To effect [woman's] emancipation and make her the equal of man it is necessary to be socialized and for women to participate in common productive labor. Then woman will be the equal of man."
[19] Girls aren’t allowed to marry until they’re eighteen – boys have to wait four years longer.  Any boy or girl convicted of premarital intercourse is severely punished, and permanently disqualified from marrying, unless this sentence is remitted by the Mayor.
[20] They never force people to work unnecessarily, for the main purpose of their whole economy is to give each person as much time free from physical drudgery as the needs of the community will allow, so that he can cultivate his mind – which they regard as the secret of a happy life.